Reviews

The Queen of Rhodia: F/F Fantasy with Established Relationship and DRAGONS

The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya Book 3)Title: The Queen of Rhodia
Author(s): Effie Calvin
Series: Tales of Inthya #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 280
Published: 
May 27th 2019 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship between pansexual mains, F/F side ship
Other: fat protagonist

It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

5+ stars

This fantasy series deserves so much love. I mean, come on! Pansexual princesses in love! Talking dragons! Goddesses and warriors! What’s not to love?

The Queen of Rhodia follows the pansexual F/F couple who got together in the first book, now in an established relationship, with the F/F couple from the second book appearing as side characters.

Esofi and Adale are married now, and they never run out of things to do. Adele is finally learning how to govern from her parents, Esofi is working on establishing a university for magical students, and they are raising a son together, who just happens to be a baby dragon. But when both news of a dragon wanting to talk to Esofi AND Esofi’s mother arrives in Ieflaria, they have even more to deal with than they would have thought…

I loved how realistically their differences and occasionally relationship problems were written. Esofi and Adale both have their own insecurities, and Esofi, like many abused children, has views that she doesn’t even realise are wrong, because they were normal when she was growing up. I love how Adale doesn’t judge her, but still makes it clear that those things are wrong, and Esofi’s mother was wrong to do them.

We learn more about the dragons and also Lisette, who was one of my favourites in book one, which was great. Svana and her brother are back, which is also great! There is so much worldbuilding potential in this series, and I’m eager to learn more about the elves and the Nightshades and the Empire. I admit I skipped book two, but I’m fully intending to go back and read it eventually, and meeting the characters here only gave me more motivation (but unfortunately, not money).

That being said, there were a couple of things in the worldbuilding that felt like missed opportunities to me. In the world of the series, a third gender, here called neutroi are officially recognised – but at least in the two books I read, we don’t actually meet a single neutroi who has more than a few lines.

There is a ritual called Change, where basically they can change one’s sex with magic – it’s something many people use to experiment or to have children, but it is mentioned that there are people who chose to stay permanently Changed, which would be equivalent of transgender people. Again, we never actually MEET anyone who is like this, or at least we don’t know about it. I know it’s probably a personal topic so it would be more difficult to bring up, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to have someone drop a comment about it.

There is also a kind of weird scene where Adale mentally compares gay and straight people (those who are only attracted to one gender) to a woman who refuses to date taller than her. She actually corrects herself, because gay and straight people don’t have a choice about their attractions, and it’s clearly just Adale’s opinion, but it was still weird and I want to mention it for others.

Finally, humans in the series are called Men instead of just Humans, which is… something I would have expected in a “mainstream” fantasy that replicates real-world sexism, but it was jarring to read in a book with pansexual princesses that has very different gender roles from ours. There is also a scene where Adale is speaking about a culprit whose gender she doesn’t know and she defaults to saying “him” instead of “them” (even though her main suspect is a woman, so it can’t even be a Freudian slip). It’s not necessarily bad, but male default language in this world didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall, I loved this book, and I absolutely adore this series and I’m eager to see the other countries that we’ll visit in future books. The next one is titled Empress of Xytae, and the princess of Xytae was mentioned briefly in this book, so I’m excited to see more of her – although she’s a liiitle too young for a YA protagonist.

NOTE: The book does give a trigger warning about past child abuse, but I didn’t really feel like it was accurate/enough. It is true that Esofi is not a child anymore and currently living away from her mother, so the abuse is less obvious, but it’s still clearly there in their present-time interactions, along with its effects on Esofi’s own views. So, consider this an extra warning that the child abuse is a central part of the story, not just a passing thing.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Into the Drowning Deep: Killer Mermaids and Killer Writing

Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author(s): Mira Grant [ Seanan McGuire ]
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Pages: 256
Published: 
November 14th 2017 by Orbit
LGBTQAI+: a bisexual main & an autistic lesbian main
Other: two deaf characters

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

5+ stars

Yes, I do know that post title is terrible, thank you.

Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) keeps destroying my emotions by writing complicated human relationships. Also, I had a nightmare about killer mermaids while I was reading this.

First impression: I was conflicted about the very long intro. On the one hand, I liked getting to know these characters, and how they were diverse and different, and getting to know them definitely raised the stakes. On the other hand, at around 120 pages I just really wanted to get to the action already.

I liked that there were many POVs (including some unexpected ones), and that not all of the characters were likeable, but in their own POV they justified their actions even if others disagreed.

Despite being a scary book, this was still funny at a lot of points, with the sarcastic comments and cat metaphors I have learned to expect from this author.

Of course, like with most horror books, there are definitely some frustrating parts where you are shouting at the characters to stop being stupid and actually realise how much danger they are in. Still, there were some twists later on that surprised me and that I really liked.

I also liked how diverse the book was (a bisexual main, an autistic lesbian main, multiple deaf mains), although in a book where anyone can die at anytime that’s always a double-edged sword.

I admit that I don’t deal well with books where a lot of characters die (I am invested in most books BECAUSE of the characters, so if you remove them, you remove my main interest), and my interest strongly plummeted at one point when one of my favourites seemed to die. In this case, I was quite lucky because most of my favourites survived, and the deaths were mostly those that I didn’t really care for anyway.

Finally, one of my favourite parts was – well, the mermaids, really. I loved how their intelligence and culture was gradually shown as the scientist found out more, and man, I loved Jillian being so completely done with everyone else. Also, all the conflicting emotions from these people who loved and feared and respected the ocean.

Into the Drowning Deep has a prequel novella, Rolling in the Deep, which was limited edition and currently only the audiobook is available from what I could see. I listened to it and I really liked that one as well, but it was… very similar to the main book. We learned the same things in both of them, and I had pretty much the same likes and dislikes in both, which is why I’m not writing a separate review.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Gender Queer: The Memoir Teen-Me Needed

Gender Queer: A MemoirTitle: Gender Queer: A Memoir
Author(s): Maia Kobabe
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Graphic Novel
Pages: 240
Published: 
May 28th 2019 by Lion Forge
LGBTQAI+: memoir by a genderqueer bi/asexual author

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

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

5 hundred stars

While reading this graphic novel, my most common thought was “holy shit”, usually paired with “that’s me!”. It was like the author reached into my brain to pluck out my thoughts, memories and experiences, and turned them into drawings. Only, of course, e was doing the same with eir own memories – which happened to be hauntingly similar to mine. I firmly believe that if I had read this book before I was 18, I would have found my identity much sooner.

120Gender Queer is a memoir that tells a story of a person growing up questioning both eir sexuality and gender. It addresses many issues that are described in the blurb, such as coming out to friends and family, feeling ignorant around your peers who seem to have more experience than you, relationships and being ready to be in them, listening to David Bowie, wanting to have life experiences as research for fanfiction, feelings about menstruation, having children, and much else.

Maia tells the story of eir childhood with beautiful illustrations, and honest even about the uncomfortable truths. Like most teens, Maia also used to be ignorant about some issues that e now knows better about, such as the dangers of using ace bandages. The only thing I would have appreciated more critical thinking on is the erotic gay shipping that is often used to fetishize gay men. There are several scenes where Maia and eir friends write fanfiction, including about real people, and mention several popular gay ships – and again, I don’t judge em and eir friends for these, but I still would have appreciated a couple of sentences about this shipping can be toxic as well as validating.

179

But really, what really struck me was how much I related to these experiences. Some scenes, like realising other girls shave their legs and I don’t, not being able to describe what haircut you want and then hating it, having a conversation with a mother about having children, wearing pants to graduation, and even playing a boy character in drama class brought up memories that happened to me, occasionally ones that I haven’t thought of or related to my gender journey.

Overall, Gender Queer is a beautifully written and drawn, honest account of a genderqueer bi/asexual person’s life. It’s special to me because I related to it so much, but I think anyone can enjoy it, and many queer people regardless of identity can find relatable moments in it. (There were also a lot of aro-relatable moments, although I’m not sure if the author identifies as aromantic as well or not.)

  • “It was everyone else being silly, not me.”
  • “This seed put out many leaves, but I didn’t have the language to identify the plant.”
  • “Friendship is NINE THOUSAND TIMES better than romance!”
  • “I’d be constantly resenting my kid for taking up all my time. I’m way too selfish for parenting.”
  • “I wish I didn’t fear that my identity is too political for a classroom.”

59

~ Alexa

Miscellaneous

My Favourite Books of 2018

2018 is over, so time for a quick yearly wrap-up! By reading lots of short stories and some graphic novels in December, I managed to reach my goal of 300 books and a littl over 50,000 pages.

If 300 books seem like a lot, then remember that 1) most of these were under 200 pages (just look at my average length) – some people got 50,000 pages with half as many books!, and 2) I was unemployed and at home for most of the year. I’ll have much less time to read in 2019, because university and life troubles. (No, my year didn’t start too well, why do you ask? But that’s another story.)

stats

And now, have a collage of my absolute favourite books this year:

Key:

🏳️‍🌈 = LGBTQAI+ representation
💐 = POC/Indigenous representation
🌱 = Disabled or Mental Health representation

We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves is a book about siblings and family with an unexpected twist. I adored this one, but make sure you have tissues ready.

🏳️‍🌈💐 Everything Leads to You is a fluffy, artsy F/F romance with loveable characters and lots of great scenes about movie set-planning. Also, a mystery.

🏳️‍🌈🌱 A Long Way to a Small Angry Planet is a sci-fi book with a found family, and just as good as everyone says it is.

🏳️‍🌈 A Little Familiar is a magical romance between a gay witch and a nonbinary witch with beautiful writing and lots of pining.

🏳️‍🌈💐🌱 The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue is historical fiction between a bisexual white boy and a biracial boy, with an aroace side character. It gets kind of dark at some points, but it’s a really funny read and I relate to the main character in a lot of ways.

🏳️‍🌈 The Cybernetic Teashop is a F/F read between a human and an android/robot where both of them are ace.

🏳️‍🌈💐🌱The Radical Element is a historical fiction anthology with all-female protagonists where the quality of writing is through the roof. Seriously.

Josie’s Coat is a sci-fi retelling of a Bible story, which isn’t something you see every day.

🏳️‍🌈💐🌱 The Ship of the Dead (Magnus Chase) has a bi/pan protagonist with my favourite genderfluid love interest, and I LOVE it.

💐 Akata Witch is a unique Nigerian fantasy with a tween protagonist, and I can’t wait to finally read the sequel this year.

🌱 All Systems Red (and the entire Murderbot series) is one of my favourite sci-fi reads, officially. I re-read all four novellas in one day on January 1st to kick off the year on the right note, and now I need MORE.

🏳️‍🌈🌱Failure to Communicate is a sci-fi with an autistic bisexual protagonist, with eventual polyamory later in the series. Seriously, when is book 3 coming out?

Sky in the Deep also had amazing sibling and family relationships, with a hopeful/positive ending, which was a nice surprise.

🏳️‍🌈Magic, Murder & Mistletoe is a quick and fun holiday F/F story with witches/sorcerers and a murder mystery.

💐 A Duke by Default is a contemporary romance novel, which I rarely read, but this had my absolute favourite dynamic, and also a Black heroine with a Scottish love interest.

🏳️‍🌈 The Queen of Ieflaria is F/F fantasy with pansexual princesses, talking dragons, and more!

🏳️‍🌈 Chasing Stars is another F/F romance with aliens, superheroes, fake dating, and all my favourite tropes in one place.

🏳️‍🌈 How Saeter Robbed the Underworld is M/M fantasy with (adopted) family feels – and I tried not to put the same author here several times, but people, Meredith Katz is GOOD.

🏳️‍🌈💐🌱 By now you probably know that anything Chameloon Moon-related is bound to be my favourite, but Life Within Parole 2 might just be my favourite collection in the universe – SO MUCH polyamory.

How was your 2018? Did you have many favourites this year?

~ Alexa

Reviews

Why Did I Wait So Long to Read This: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet

The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet (Wayfarers, #1)Title: The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet
Author(s): Becky Chambers
Series: Wayfarers #1
Genre: Science Fiction, Space Opera
Published: August 13th 2015 by Hodder & Stoughton
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main characters in a slowburn relationship, aliens with different concepts of gender, probably something else I missed?

Follow a motley crew on an exciting journey through space—and one adventurous young explorer who discovers the meaning of family in the far reaches of the universe—in this light-hearted debut space opera from a rising sci-fi star.

Rosemary Harper doesn’t expect much when she joins the crew of the aging Wayfarer. While the patched-up ship has seen better days, it offers her a bed, a chance to explore the far-off corners of the galaxy, and most importantly, some distance from her past. An introspective young woman who learned early to keep to herself, she’s never met anyone remotely like the ship’s diverse crew, including Sissix, the exotic reptilian pilot, chatty engineers Kizzy and Jenks who keep the ship running, and Ashby, their noble captain.

Life aboard the Wayfarer is chaotic and crazy—exactly what Rosemary wants. It’s also about to get extremely dangerous when the crew is offered the job of a lifetime. Tunneling wormholes through space to a distant planet is definitely lucrative and will keep them comfortable for years. But risking her life wasn’t part of the plan. In the far reaches of deep space, the tiny Wayfarer crew will confront a host of unexpected mishaps and thrilling adventures that force them to depend on each other. To survive, Rosemary’s got to learn how to rely on this assortment of oddballs—an experience that teaches her about love and trust, and that having a family isn’t necessarily the worst thing in the universe.

Rating: 5 stars, favourited

I’m pretty sure this book invented the concept of “found family”.

First, I was kind of surprised by how much the title actually fits the book: yes, this is indeed the description of a long journey to a war-torn planet, with everything that entails. A lot of the journey is getting to know the characters and their cultures, so the plot might seem slow at times, but then something big or dangerous happens and you have to hold your breath. And then it completely destroys you emotionally. So yeah, it was a wild ride, but let’s not rush ahead.

I loved how diverse the inhabitants of the galaxy were: I didn’t feel like the aliens were just slightly different humans, they were all completely unique in biology, looks, culture and history as well. I loved how those cultures sometimes clashed, and the crew members had trouble really accepting something from someone else’s (like in the case of Sissix or Ohan), but they still respected the other crew members and their culture. I found the way Sissix’s people treat families especially interesting – some part of it, like the polyamorous living with your lovers/friends type of thing was appealing, while other parts were admittedly strange for my human brain, but at least I know Ashby and Rosemary shared those thoughts with me. I also loved how Dr Chef’s species treated gender as something that changes over time for their species.

Not only the aliens are unique either: the humans in this book also have different groups with different views, including the Exodans who have left behind their species’ bloody past and became completely pacifists with strong principles on holding guns. I loved how Ashby’s views were explored and handled, and I loved the strong anti-colonialism message.

And the found family aspect? Just, wow. These people love each other so much. Sissix and Ashby are so good. Jenks and Kizzy are so good. Dr Chef’s talk with Rosemary about their species is so good. Ohan and Corbin appear less often, but when they do, they destroy your emotions, especially in the second half of the book. One of my favourite moments was when Corbin gets in trouble (not describing the trouble obviously, because spoilers), and Sissix is SO annoyed because she hates his guts, but she still doesn’t even consider not helping him.

There are also some complicated or questionable moral decisions that come from the difference in the cultures, most importantly in Ohan’s case. I can tell you honestly that I’m not sure how to feel about what happened to him in the end, and I don’t know what would have been the right path there. I just don’t know.

Lovey and Jenks and the whole storyline about AI and their consent was amazing. (It also gave me very strong Joker/EDI vibes, but hey.) And then it destroyed me and honestly this is another storyline that I’m not yet sure how I feel about, but it’s supposed to be in the center of the sequel so hopefully reading that will help me judge it.

As for the F/F ship that develops as a pretty slow burn, I have… neutral thoughts? I liked it, but I wasn’t truly feeling it. Still, it was nice to have casual LGBT characters, like Rosemary’s sexuality or Kizzy’s dads.

Random little bits I loved:
* If you don’t know somebody’s gender, it’s polite to default to xyr pronouns.
* The part towards the end where Ashby acts the AI’s name and he acts so confused and thinks he’s in trouble.
* Humans being like “holy shit she’s sixteen” and Sissix being like “wait how much is that? translate it to my species please.”
* “Come on. Put on your trousers. I want to meet the woman who gets to take them off.”
* Jenks staying to listen to a non-sentient AIs entire intro speech, to be polite.

~ Alexa

Reviews

I Need to Have An Emotion In Private: Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy

Rogue Protocol (The Murderbot Diaries, #3)Title: Rogue Protocol & Exit Strategy
Author(s): Martha Wells
Series: The Murderbot Diaries #3-#4
Genre: Science Fiction, Novella, Androids
Published: August 7th 2018 & October 2nd 2018 by Tor
LGBTQAI+: 
Other representation: 
polyamorous side character
I received both copies for free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review. My copy of Exit Strategy was an uncorrected proof.

SciFi’s favorite crabby A.I. is again on a mission. The case against the too-big-to-fail GrayCris Corporation is floundering, and more importantly, authorities are beginning to ask more questions about where Dr. Mensah’s SecUnit is.

And Murderbot would rather those questions went away. For good.

Murderbot wasn’t programmed to care. So, its decision to help the only human who ever showed it respect must be a system glitch, right?

Having traveled the width of the galaxy to unearth details of its own murderous transgressions, as well as those of the GrayCris Corporation, Murderbot is heading home to help Dr. Mensah–its former owner (protector? friend?)–submit evidence that could prevent GrayCris from destroying more colonists in its never-ending quest for profit.

But who’s going to believe a SecUnit gone rogue?

And what will become of it when it’s caught?

I read these two novellas (each between 160-180 pages) back-to-back, and the ending of the fourth one influenced my rating of the third, so it’s only fitting that I review them together – the same way I did with the first two books.

Murderbot is back, and I can only repeat myself when I say how much I adore this character: an android construct who is incredibly relatable to introvert people and people with anxiety while also being capable at its job and funny as hell. Murderbot takes several names as it pretends to be an augmented human to get around, and it insists it doesn’t get attached to humans… then does it anyway.

Abene had known I was a SecUnit, but she didn’t know I was me.

In Rogue Protocol, Murderbot ends up attached to a crew of humans and a human-form bot, feeling responsible for their safety and grumbling about how humans suck at security… again. Seeing an obviously non-human bot who is treated with kindness and as a friend by its humans makes Murderbot Feel Things and muse about what it really wants. In Exit Strategy, Murderbot finally returns to meet up with some old friends it left in the first book – friends who respect its boundaries and personhood despite being fully aware that Murderbot is a SecUnit with a hacked government module. During this journey, Murderbot becomes more and more human-like (mostly in appearance to fool people and get by safely) and yet rejecting the idea that it wants to be human, because that is the dumbest thing it ever heard.

I admit that it’s been a while since I read All Systems Red, and I didn’t remember much about the original crew other than Dr. Mensah, so I actually opened the eBook and skimmed a few parts to remember who I’m re-meeting in Exit Strategy. It was nice to see those relationship develop further, and really see the progression from beginning to end, despite Murderbot’s decision to leave for two books.

Elise points out in one Murderbot review that while Murderbot gradually develops emotions, attachments and relationships with people, none of these relationships are ever even close to romantic. I can only echo how awesome this is, since so many stories about androids involve “becoming human” by falling in love. There’s really none of that here, for several reasons: all of Murderbot’s relationships are platonic, and while it is obviously a person, it is not a human.

One thing I love about this entire series is that Murderbot… well, it is special and one of a kind, of course, but still not The One Bot that somehow learned to feel emotions and make friends. In fact, there are plenty of bots throughout the four novellas that are clearly capable of making their own decisions, developing attachments with each other and/or with humans, and even the bot pilots Murderbot refers to as limited are implied to have emotions to some degree (e.g. when Murderbot can tell the bot pilot is sad to see it go). I love this portrayal of bots, and it really makes one think about whom we think of as a person, and how people treat non-humans as less because we assume they cannot possibly be similar to us.

Since I loved the Murderbot Diaries so much, I had high expectations and I was worried throughout the last book that the ending would somehow disappoint me, but I actually loved it. I get easily attached and thus I didn’t like that Murderbot keeps making temporary friends and then leaving them, but the ending gave the possibility of reconnecting/keeping in touch with several people it made friends with during the books, and most importantly: it was an open ending where Murderbot doesn’t quite know what to do yet, but has possibilities and a choice. Open endings are difficult to get right for me because if they are too open then I just feel like I got no closure, but in this case it was just the right amount of open. (Plus, there’s a full-length novel coming out in a few years, so there’s that.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Duke By Default: My Favourite Dynamic in a Romance Novel

A Duke by Default (Reluctant Royals #2)Title: A Duke by Default
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Published: July 31st 2018 by Avon
LGBTQAI+: none
Other representation: 
Black American heroine, Scottish/Chilean hero with a Jamaican stepfather, multiple side characters of color
I received an ARC from the publisher through Edelweiss in exchange from an honest review.

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice—and his attraction to her—but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

Rating: 5 (hundred) stars

I heard great things about A Princess in Theory, a romance novel with a Black heroine in foster care studying science, with a Black prince love interest. While non-YA romance with M/F pairings is a relatively new genre to me, I was excited to get my hands on an ARC of the sequel, A Duke by Default. In the end, this novel ended up being everything I hoped it would be.

In A Duke by Default, the POV alternates between Portia, an American woman who takes an internship in Scotland, and Tavish, a swordmaker who is really into Scottish history and is supposed to teach Portia how to make swords as well. From the very beginning, their dynamic was everything I loved: there is some age difference, but an even bigger difference in lifestyle. Portia is young, an expert at search engines and social media, and immediately eager to redesign the website of Tavish’s armory. Tavish hates being recorded, doesn’t answer the phone most days, and just wants to be left in peace to make his swords and take care of his community. Portia tries her best to act easy-going and confident, but in reality, she has extreme self-esteem issues due to her undiagnosed ADHD and dismissal from her parents. Tavish is a grump and kind of an asshole, but he holds free classes and hands out meals to the kids and teens in the community.

Since Portia and Tavish are so different, their relationship starts out rough. There is really only one thing they agree on: neither of them needs a workplace (or any kind of) relationship to complicate their lives even further, not even if sparks fly between them from the first moment. I loved how they both tried to convince each other they didn’t need or want this, even as their banter grew more playful and their attraction undeniable. While I usually scroll through sex scenes, with these two and this writer I found even those worth reading. In short, their dynamic was truly everything I wanted.

Our protagonists both have whole, vivid lives outside of the romance. Portia has issues with her family and feels constantly compared to her twin sister, who seems better at everything. Tavish works at the armory with his brother and sister-in-law, and calls her Chilean mother’s Jamaican husband his father instead of the white Scottish man he never met. Gentrification, racism and contemporary backlash against immigration in Scotland are all important themes in the novel, both before and after Tavish finds out that his absent biological father happened to be a Royal Duke. There is also significant criticism towards the aristocracy and royalty, and some glorious geekiness as well.

I loved both Portia’s and Tavish’s relationships with their siblings, and I really, really loved the relatable and validating portrayal of finding out as an adult that maybe you have ADHD and all the things giving you insecurity have an explanation. I also fell in love with Johan, who is a side character in this book but will be the hero in the next one, so I can’t wait to get my hands on A Prince on Paper as soon as it comes out.

~ Alexa

Reviews

The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue: Was This Book Written For Me?

The Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue (Montague Siblings, #1)Title: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Author(s): Mackenzi Lee
Series: Montague Siblings #1
Genre: Historical Fiction, LGBTQAI+
Published: June 27th 2017 by Katherine Tegen Books
LGBTQAI+: bisexual protagonist, biracial + bisexual male love interest, a-spec side character (the latter is not detailed in this book, but there are hints)

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions—not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.

“I flirted my way into this mess and I’m going to flirt my way out of it”
– Monty, probably

My rating: 5 stars

It was strange to read this book right after Six of Crows (a hyped book that ultimately disappointed me) because this one is just as hyped and I loved it exactly as much as everyone said I would.

The Gentleman’s Guide had everything I personally wanted or needed: a bisexual protagonist, a biracial love interest, an incredibly soft friends-to-lovers romance with some mutual pining and slow burn, a girl who just really wants to be a doctor in the 1700s, a complicated sibling relationship, and complex characters all around. Also, travelling, and specifically travelling while being chased because you accidentally uncovered a huge secret and now that you’re in this mess you just have to see it through.

I was in love from the first scene, which was a little strange, because I usually find it uncomfortable to read about characters being drunk or hungover. Still, Monty does it so endearingly and Mackenzi Lee writes so nicely that I only found the opening funny and captivating.

Perhaps I am trying to procreate with all these lads and I’m just very misinformed about the whole process. If only Eton hadn’t thrown me out.

At first glance, Monty is the epitome of the privileged rich, white, abled guy who – despite having good intentions and not being intentionally mean – has many flaws and misconceptions about disabled people and people of colour. He himself states at the beginning of the novel that he’s had an easy life, and nothing bad has ever happened to him. And yet, it doesn’t take too long to find out that it’s not true at all: he’s been emotionally and physically abused, he’s been made to feel inadequate and trapped, for more reasons than “just” for lying with men. There were many scenes in this book where I found myself mad at Monty, but in the end I loved how he had plenty of flaws and you could see him try to do better and improve when he clearly had a long way to go. He was very relatable, and I never thought I’d relate to a rich kid from the 1700s.

I don’t know how Felicity knows what bones are meant to feel like.
I’m also not clear how Felicity knows the best way to throw a punch.

Felicity is a teenage girl who longs for a proper education and medical school, and watches her brother throw away the opportunities that she’ll never have because of her gender. She is also an incredibly funny and headstrong girl who cares about both Percy and Monty, even if they don’t get along with the latter. I can’t wait to see a book from her POV in the sequel, because words cannot describe how amazing she is. She was also very relatable, mainly in her love of books and not being good at parties.

Lucky for me as well, or else we might never have met, and then what would have been the point of my life?

With Percy, I’m a little conflicted. I felt like he didn’t have much personality outside of being biracial and experiencing racism + his relationship with Monty + a spoiler-y disability that becomes an important plot point. Of course, these are all big things and part of his identity (and I loved how living as a dark-skinned man and as a disabled man in the 1700s was addressed), but I still felt like something was lacking.

The only complaint I really have that this book had two different jokes about slitting your wrists, which is both unnecessary and something I’m personally pretty sensitive about, so it wasn’t pleasant to read. (I know it’s a little contrary, because joking about being dead or even killing yourself is something depressed/suicidal people often do as coping, but here both of the wrists comments felt kind of careless and very different from the heavy scene where Monty says he wants to die.)

warnings: significant homophobia and racism because of the time period, physical and emotional abuse by a parent, the aforementioned suicide jokes

~ Alexa

Miscellaneous · Recommendations · TBR

Bookish BuzzWords

So, I saw a post about Bookish BuzzWords vs Bookish NopeWords over on Aurora Librialis, and I started thinking about what those would be for me. Then I realised I have way too many buzzwords that make me pick up books. As you can see, I cheated at some places.

  • 1) fairytales / retellings

This is one buzzword Aurora and I have in common. I love fairytale retellings, and if they’re queer or otherwise diverse, even better! Peter Darling is a Peter Pan retelling that I’ve been meaning to read for so long and somehow still haven’t – it has transgender Peter Pan who falls in love with Captain Hook. And isn’t that cover just beautiful? In Ageless Sleep is a queer Sleeping Beauty retelling I haven’t read yet, and Magic at Midnight is a YA fairytale anthology that I’m looking forward to.

fairytales

  • 2) angels

I have this thing where I love stories with angels, but I don’t like when they go too far into Christianity/religious themes. I know, I know, a contradiction. Unfortunately, I haven’t found many angel books that I’ve enjoyed yet. Hush, Hush is one that I loved as a teen, but I’ve been afraid of re-reading it because I don’t think I’d enjoy it now. Out of the Blue is a book I can’t wait to get my hands on – it’s a f/f romance with angels, although surprisingly, the angel is not part of the main couple. And Plastic Wings has an ace protagonist – I won this book forever ago in a giveaway and still haven’t read it. Welp?

angels

  • 3) mermaids

Another buzzword Aurora and I share. I love mermaid books, especially The Little Mermaid retellings, and thankfully, there’s a lot of those. The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist isn’t strictly about mermaids, but it’s the closest thing you can compare these creatures to. It was darker than I expected, but that was my fault for not remembering that the original story was pretty dark too. I still adored it, and it has a f/enby pairing as well. (Warning: don’t expect a happy ending.) I ended up enjoying Ice Massacre more than I thought I would, despite the violence – although the queer girl protagonist certainly helped. And Sea Foam and Silence is a retelling with an ace protagonist and a polyamorous relationship that I still haven’t read… I’m wary of books in verse, but I’ll make an exception for this.

mermaids

  • 4) superheroes

I just love superheroes, okay? Even if they’re sometimes cliché or cheesy, I have a soft spot for them. Not Your Sidekick is pretty cheesy, but with the ownvoices bisexual protagonist, f/f ship, secret identities and queer side characters, it’s a great first book in a great series. Strong Female Protagonist deals with a topic I adore but rarely see: what happens to heroes after they save the world? I haven’t read Girl Reporter yet, but I certainly want to.

superheroes

  • 5) robot / AI / android

There’s a lot of overlap between these three, and I love books with them all. All Systems Red is one of my favourite books, with an anxious android/AI protagonist, one of the best protagonists I’ve read. The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a great asexual f/f romance between an android and a mechanic that also touches on the topic of ownership, something that often comes up with robots and androids. Medusa Uploaded is a book I haven’t yet read, but it definitely sounds amazing.

ais

  • 6) space pirates / thieves / smugglers

It’s a little difficult to sum this up in one word, but I adore morally grey characters, thieves, smugglers and misfits – especially if they happen to be in space. Beauty, Glory, Thrift is a short story about a thief who steals a goddess, and what else do you need, really? Honor Among Thieves is a book I haven’t read, but it sounds right up my alley. And who would be better than one half of the ultimate space misfit pair, Lando?

thieves

  • 7) dragons

Dragons make everything better, duh. Just look at The Tea Dragon Society, which is adorable fantasy graphic novel with tiny dragons and plenty of queer characters. Smoke Signals is a romance between a dragon and a regular IT guy, which was one of my favourite reads of the year. And Wings of Renewal has both dragons AND solarpunk, so it’s like, the ultimate buzzword book for me.

dragons

  • 8) solarpunk / hopeful futures

I already kind of spoiled this in the previous one, but I discovered the solarpunk genre not long ago and absolutely fell in love with it. A polar opposite of gritty dystopias, solarpunk is all about hopeful futures, sustainable and eco-friendly methods, community, working together and supporting marginalised people. Basically, a big “fuck you” to the current worldstate, which is where the “punk” part comes from. Most solarpunk books I know are actually anthologies, but I’m always looking for more.

solarpunk

  • 9) goddesses / mythology

I especially like greek mythology, but I just really like to read anything with goddesses. Outrun the Wind isn’t strictly about the goddess herself, but a huntress of Artemis, and it’s one of my most anticipated releases of the year. Antigoddess is about greek mythology as well, and I don’t know much about it but it has been recommended to me and sounds good. And I’m not sure whether Nobody’s Goddess is actually good, but the blurb sounds interesting, and isn’t that the most beautiful cover you’ve ever seen?

goddess

  • 10) polyamory

I am always, always looking for more books with healthy, committed polyamory. Chameleon Moon and anything else in that universe is a given: it has a committed polyam triad, and a complicated network of polyamorous ships with many cuddles. Running With The Pack was one of the first polyamorous books I came across, with an asexual character AND werewolves, but I still haven’t read it. And Failure to Communicate is the first book in a series that has a polyamorous slowburn. The author has stated that the relationship will happen, although it will take several more books to get there.

polyamory

  • +1) bisexual / asexual / aromantic

I am biromantic asexual, and while I’m not aromantic, I recognise that all three of these identities have things in common – for example, being incredibly rare in fiction. Bisexuality is significantly more common than the other two, but finding well-written #ownvoices portrayal of it is still difficult. I am still waiting to find the perfect bisexual book that really resonates with me, and I am always looking for more ace and aro #ownvoices fiction. (Note: I do recognise that asexual and aromanic are far from being the same, but the communities and identities do have a lot in common and they both need more rep.)

biaro

Runner-ups: Some other concepts/buzzwords I love are books about siblings, especially twins. I like the concept of identical twins, but I’d also love to see sibling relationships like Thor and Loki in the MCU, for example. I absolutely love anthologies, because they are a quick way to get to know several authors, and even if I don’t like all the stories, there’s always something that catches my eye. And this might be cliché, but I still love princesses, especially queer princesses, especially in fantasy.

What are some of your buzzwords that will always make you pick up a book? And what are your favourite books that include my or your buzzwords?

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Failure to Communicate

34216194Failure to Communicate by Kaia Sønderby

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 🌿🌿🌿🌿🌿/5.

~ Alexa