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

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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

Reviews

Review: Ice Massacre

23272410Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner

Genre: Fantasy, Mermaids, YA, LGBTQAI+
Series: Mermaids of Eriana Kwai, #1
Published: September 18th 2014 by Rogue Cannon Publishing
Length: 375 pages (Kindle edition)
Purchase: Author | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Sapphic main character + love interest
Sex on page: No

A mermaid’s supernatural beauty serves one purpose: to lure a sailor to his death.

The Massacre is supposed to bring peace to Eriana Kwai. Every year, the island sends its warriors to battle these hostile sea demons. Every year, the warriors fail to return. Desperate for survival, the island must decide on a new strategy. Now, the fate of Eriana Kwai lies in the hands of twenty battle-trained girls and their resistance to a mermaid’s allure.

Eighteen-year-old Meela has already lost her brother to the Massacre, and she has lived with a secret that’s haunted her since childhood. For any hope of survival, she must overcome the demons of her past and become a ruthless mermaid killer.

For the first time, Eriana Kwai’s Massacre warriors are female, and Meela must fight for her people’s freedom on the Pacific Ocean’s deadliest battleground.

This book was 2018 March’s Sapphic Book Club read hosted by @sapphicliterature.

I discovered this book several months ago – I was drawn to it by the beautiful cover, the fact that it had mermaids, and the intriguing blurb. Since it’s not clear from the blurb or the Goodreads tags, I didn’t actually know this book had a queer main character until much later.

I finally picked up the Ice Massacre for the Sapphic Book Club, and I am really glad I did. This book was action-packed and amazing, although darker than what I usually read… and definitely involving more character deaths.

I loved the all-female crew, and the way they interacted with each other. They have been trained as warriors, and yet they were still children, wanting to have fun and relax before things got real. Later, desperation and the will to survive created rifts between them. At some parts, I kind of felt like I was reading a female Lord of the Flies – which was a little disturbing, given that I hated the Lord of the Flies, but thankfully I was able to get over the association.

I also loved the plot, and the way things weren’t exactly how you – and the characters – thought at first. I loved the relationship between the two main characters, and how their loyalty towards each other crashed with the loyalty toward their people. I was a little worried that Meela’s sexuality would be left ambiguous, but if nothing else, then the ending of the book really makes it impossible to deny even with the most heteronormative lenses.

One major complaint I had was the pacing towards the beginning. The book starts with one chapter in present time, then a few chapters as a flashback, and then back to present time. Personally, I felt this was really weird and I would have preferred the flashbacks to be built into the main story gradually. I also didn’t enjoy reading the flashbacks in general – I don’t think the characters sounded like ten-year-olds, and it was a little off-putting.

As someone who is often bored by action scenes, I was pleasantly surprised when this action-packed novel almost always held my attention instead of just turning into a series of almost identical battle scenes. Overall, I really enjoyed this story and I can’t wait to read the sequel.

(Okay, but seriously though – what kind of person uses someone’s dead brother to make fun of them?)

Final rating:🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️🧜‍♀️/5

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Smoke Signals

38880586Smoke Signals by Meredith Katz

Genre: M/M romance, Fantasy
Collection: For The Hoard
Published: February 28th, 2018 by Less Than Three Press
Length: 83 pages (Kindle Edition)
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon
LGBTQAI+: Gay male protagonist, bisexual male love interest, lesbian author
Sex on page: Yes

Mike St. George figured that working customer support during the Black Friday sale at SmokeSignals, a game distribution company, would just feature the usual sort of problem customers. He wasn’t expecting an aristocratic, self-centered dragon to demand the company send someone to his house to install games in exchange for gold. And he definitely wasn’t expecting that to somehow put him in charge of working with and protecting the digital side of the dragon’s hoard of games.

But with a possible promotion in his future, Mike’s ready to take on anything. And while the blue-blooded Zali’thurg might be egotistical and prideful, Mike’s wrangled worse customers on a regular basis. At least this one’s cute, albeit in an ‘apex predator’ sort of way.

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

#IndieAthon is off to a great start, because wow, this book was amazing.

It’s not often that you find videogames, customer service, Black Friday sales and real, actual dragons in the same story, but Smoke Signals certainly ticks all those boxes. There’s also an adorable romance, cultural differences that lead to awkwardness, dragon lore incorporated into modern human culture, communication about boundaries, knitting and cooking shows…

Honestly, I adored this story from the beginning to the end. First, I related to Mike’s customer service job and his difficult customers, and later I was pulled in by the gradually developing relationship between him and Zali’thurg. I also spent most of it grinning ear-to-ear – there are quite a few humorous parts or comments, and some really sweet gestures coming from both love interests.

While there is a quite explicit sex scene, even that is intriguing in terms of cultural differences, and Zali’thurg’s, well, dragonness. While he has a pseudohuman form that he often uses around Mike, I appreciated that this form wasn’t fully human and Zali’thurg still retained several characteristics of his species.

I understand that romance with a non-human character may not be for everyone, but personally, Smoke Signal was one of my favourite reads of the year.

My rating: 🐉🐉🐉🐉🐉/5

~ Alexa

Reviews

ARC review: The Queen of Ieflaria

38108325I received a copy through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Release date: February 19th, 2018 by Nine Star Press

I remember seeing this wonderful cover on Twitter and hearing that the book would be about queer princesses, and I immediately fell in love. And let me tell you, when I finally got to read it, The Queen of Ieflaria turned out to be everything I hoped for and more.

To say that The Queen of Ieflaria has queer princesses is technically true, but it’s a huge understatement. In fact, The Queen of Ieflaria has a main cast made of several unique, funny, supportive and fleshed out characters, most of whom are female. I’m not exaggerating when I say that I was in love with not only both Esofi and Adale, but every single one of their ladies-in-waiting – all of whom had their own unique personalities and beautiful moments. (Lisette is definitely my favourite though, hands down.)

The only reason why I didn’t devour this book in one sitting is that I started reading it too late and had to go to sleep at 1am and finish the next morning. I adored the writing style, the characters, the plot… This book has princesses fighting in duels in dresses, princesses fighting dragons, talking magical creatures, good dragons, baby dragons, princesses kissing, princesses in love… I’m sorry, why are you still here reading this review when you could be pre-ordering The Queen of Ieflaria?

I loved how different Esofi and Adale were, and yet they worked together well and both helped each other grow, or see things from the other’s point of view. I especially enjoyed their different views on science and religion and how they changed (and yet still stayed true to themselves) during the book.

Note: While this first book unfortunately didn’t have any major trans characters, it did have minor nonbinary characters (referred to as neutroi) and even a nonbinary god, and referenced a canon magical way to transition, so I hope this will change in the future installments.

This is my new favourite book, and it might be yours, too.

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Lifeline Signal

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: ★★★★★💖

~ Alexa 🐉

Recommendations

Recommendation: 10 Best Stories Under 100 Pages – Part 2

Here is the second part I promised – five stories between 40 and 70 pages that you should absolutely read.

The Stable Boy by Megan Derr – Amazon (Free!)| My Review | 40 pages

This is one of the two m/m short stories on this list – a fantasy story about two princes who have to overcome betrayal and curses before they can get married. While I felt like that the resolution could have been more detailed, I still enjoyed this story and rooted for the princes to be happy together.

The Little Homo Sapiens Scientist by S.L. Huang – Amazon | My Review | 46 pages

This dark reverse retelling of The Little Mermaid classic has a female scientist fall in love with and transform to join – well, not a mermaid exactly, but you’ll see that if you read this amazing short story. I adored it despite the fact that it broke my heart.

The love interest presents as feminine due to our standards and uses she/her pronouns, but she comes from a species with only one gender. There is also a nonbinary supporting character in the story who helps the main character. Warning: This story does not have a happy ending – it’s closer to the original Little Mermaid story than the Disney version.

Beauty, Glory, Thrift by Alison Tam – Amazon | My Review | 55 pages

I am Thrift and I want to leave this place, and see the far ends of the universe, and never spend another moment in stasis ever again. Take my hand and bring me with you…

Would you ever still a goddess? This thief would. The goddess Thrift is perhaps the most insignificant of her sisters, and yet she’s the one who gets to see the universe with the help of the thief who eventually captures her heart. This is an f/f short story set in space that you will absolutely adore, though I cannot say much more about it without spoiling the story.

The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz – Amazon | My Review | 65 pages

How do people even come up with all these beautiful and magical stories?! I can’t tell you, but The Cybernetic Tea Shop is a masterpiece. The main characters are a fully autonomous robot, Sal, a technician specialising in Raise AIs (small robot companions), and of course, Joanie, the hummingbird-shaped Raise AI herself. This is a story about a woman who can’t settle, a tea shop that is almost 300 years old, moving on, and finding new purpose. I recommend it to everyone.

Avi Cantor Has Six Months to Live by Sacha Lamb – Amazon | My Review | 67 pages

This is the other m/m story on the list – in fact, it is an #ownvoices story about a romance between two trans gay teenage boys, one of whom is Jewish. The author describes it as a “romantic, #ownvoices fairy tale for trans boys”, and nothing I can say would really explain it better than that. (It does deal with topics of suicide, although nobody actually commits it in the story.)

~ Alexa 🐉

Recommendations

Recommendation: Chameleon Moon + Others

Let me tell you about the Chameleon Moon universe and why I adore it.

(Disclaimer: I am not getting paid or compensated for this in any way, I just really love this author and this world, so here’s why you should love it too and also the best ways you can get extra content.)

Love yourself, love the people around you, and never give up. If you need help, reach out. If you’re drowning, make some noise. There are people who love you, who will throw you a life preserver. That’s what it all comes down to, love. That’s how we’re gonna get through this. And we are gonna get through this.

Chameleon Moon and its sequel, The Lifeline Signal are both hopeful dystopian novels by RoAnna Sylver. What is a hopeful dystopia, you ask? The world sucks, but we’re still here. We support each other, we carry on, and everything is going to be okay.

I cannot emphasize how much I admire the world, and especially the characters RoAnna Sylver created. Not only is the cast incredibly diverse in terms of sexual and romantic orientation, race, disability and personalities, but there is also a huge focus on anxiety, PTSD and related mental health issues. The story of Chameleon Moon is all about standing together.

I could talk forever about the different types of representation in Chameleon Moon, so let me highlight my favourite parts: it has several asexual and aromantic characters (although in the first book the aromanticism is only word-of-god), and also plenty of polyamory. Over here, there is a trio of three women (one of them transgender) married to each other with a kid. And over there… like 5-6 guys and nb people dating each other in all kinds of combinations. (There are also several nonbinary characters using they/them pronouns, as well as at least one of them using xie/xir pronouns – and it’s all completely natural.)

Another huge part of why I love the Chameleon Moon books is the author, RoAnna Sylver themself. They are not only an incredibly skilled writer with a wonderful soul (I mean, you have to have a wonderful soul to be this committed to writing books about hope and love), but they are also super approachable and open to me fans screaming at them about the various characters.

The best place where you can buy the author’s works is Gumroad – you can find all of the stories plus some extra stuff there (including What You Remember, the Chameleon Moon theme song, which is honestly worth every penny), and you can even choose to tip if you can. However, if for some reason you can’t afford the five dollars for the first book, it is actually cheaper on Amazon.

I actually got almost everything by RoAnna Sylver (the two Chameleon Moon novels, a bunch of short stories, as well as their other projects – Stake Sauce with punk gay vampires and Death Masquerade with 19th-century lesbian vampires) either for free or incredibly cheap – all through legal means and from the author themself. Two of the short stories, Runtime and Always Be You are free on both Amazon and Gumroad, and a third one, Un-Dead is included for free in the second edition of Chameleon Moon. (The ebook, at least – I can’t speak for the physical book.)

Signing up for RoAnna’s mailing list (link on the sidebar here) also gets you free stuff, and just paying one dollar per update on Patreon gives you access to a crapton of posts with extra content (with higher tiers getting you exclusive commissions!).

All in all, this is honestly one of my favourite book series, and apparently there are at least five books planned?! I’m here for the long-run, and you should be too.

~ Alexa 🐲