Readathon/Bingo · Wrap-up

#IndieAthon and March 2018 Wrap-up

This month was IndieAthon hosted by Lia, which was an amazing idea and which, frankly, made me read a scary amount of books. Sure, many of them were poetry collections or novellas, but wow. Trust me, I’m as astonished as you are. (In all honesty, I did little else but read this month – that’s the privilege of having no school, no work, and no social life for you.)

If you remember, I had a TBR for this challenge… which I ended up not really following. In fact, only 13Β of the 25 books I read for the challenge were in my original plan.

indieathon_covers

Read for the IndieAthon bingo:

  • Villains Don’t Date Heroes! by Mia Archer: 309 pages (#IndieAthon square: First in a series) 🌟🌟
  • Caroline’s Heart by Austin Chant: 96 pages (#IndieAthon square: Recommended to you) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • But Not Up Here by RoAnna Sylver: 28 pages (#IndieAthon square: Genre you don’t read often) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Damsel to the RescueΒ byΒ Kaia SΓΈnderby: 337 pages (#IndieAthon square: <100 adds on Goodreads) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Testing Pandora byΒ Kaia SΓΈnderby: 166 pages (#IndieAthon square: Person on cover) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Not Your Sidekick by C.B. Lee: 296 pages (#IndieAthon square: POC MC) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • nejma by Nayyirah Waheed: 180 pages (#IndieAthon square: 1-word title) 🌟🌟🌟
  • Ice Massacre by Tiana Warner: 375 pages (#IndieAthon square: Your initials) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Stake Sauce, Arc 1 by RoAnna Sylver: 193 pages (#IndieAthon square: Mental health) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • salt by Nayyirah Waheed: 259 pages (#IndieAthon square: 5+ years old) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Cheerleaders from Planet X by Lyssa Chiavari: 272 pages (#IndieAthon square: Cover love) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • ARC: It’s Not a Date by Heather Blackmore: 273 pages (#IndieAthon square: New release) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction edited by Bogi TakΓ‘cs: 239 pages (#IndieAthon square: Free space) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Queerly Loving: Volume 1 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz: 154 pages (#IndieAthon square: LGBTQAI+) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • ARC: Lost Boy, Found Boy by Jenn Polish: ~83 pagesΒ (#IndieAthon square: Never heard of) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • The Traitor’s Tunnel by C.M. Spivey: 110 pages (#IndieAthon square: Backlist) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Ripped Pages by M. Hollis: 60 pages (#IndieAthon square: Retelling) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • The White Renegade by Claudie Arseneault: 100 pages (#IndieAthon square: Red cover) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Major Arcana by RoAnna Sylver: 39 pages (#IndieAthon square: Magical) 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Smoke Signals by Meredith Katz: 83 pages (#IndieAthon square: <200 pages) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Children Shouldn’t Play With Dead Things by Martina McAtee: 510 pages (#IndieAthon square: >500 pages) 🌟🌟🌟
  • ARC: Flotsam by R.J. Theodore: 324 pages (#IndieAthon square: Free) 🌟🌟🌟
  • Heaven or This by Topaz Winters: 28 pages (#IndieAthon square: Reread) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Failure to Communicate by Kaia SΓΈnderby: 320 pages (#IndieAthon square: #ownvoices) 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Semicolon; by McKayla Debonis: 70 pages (#IndieAthon square: Poetry) 🌟🌟🌟🌟

Everything else read:

  • ARC: Queerly Loving: Volume 2 edited by G. Benson and Astrid Ohletz: 159 pages 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • ARC: The Radical Element edited by Jessica Spotswood: 320 pages 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • Seven Years Among Dragons by Lyssa Chiavari: 36 pages 🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • ARC: Dracula: Rise of the Beast edited by David Thomas Moore: 381 pages 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟
  • A Quick and Easy Guide to They/Them Pronouns by Archie Bongiovanni: 64 pages 🌟🌟🌟🌟🌟

35671549Total number of books* read in March: 30 (February: 14)
Total number of pages* read in March: 5781 (February: 2654)

*including poetry collections, short stories, novellas and graphic novels.

Books read for Around the Year in 52 books: 12 this month (29 total)
Books read for Lesbian Book Bingo: 4 this month (11 total)

Current number of “owned-and-unread” books: 380 (February: 345)

(You can find all my reviews on my Goodreads page as well, including “reviews” that are only a few sentences and too short to be posted on this blog. Feel free to add me as a friend!)

34216194

So… that’s everything I read! I included page numbers so you don’t think all of them were full-length novels (although I don’t have a proper page number for Lost Boy, Found Boy, so I gave an estimate and didn’t include it in the page total). Also, nejma and salt are both poetry collections, so take the page number with a grain of salt, since most of the pages only had a couple of lines or even just one word on them.

Still, I’d say this was a pretty impressive month, and most of it is thanks to IndieAthon and my determination to finish the damn bingo sheet.

Also… I read 30 books this month, and YET acquired 35 new books?! … I’ll never get rid of my TBR at this rate.

Lastly, let me recommend some indie books that I wanted to read this month but couldn’t fit into the schedule:

  • Empath by S. Usher Evans
  • Sea Foam and Silence by Lynn E. O’Connacht
  • City of Strife + City of Betrayal by Claudie Arseneault
  • Viral Airwaves by Claudie Arseneault
  • No More Heroes by Michelle Kan
  • Secondhand Origin Stories by Lee Blauersouth
  • Anything published by the Kraken Collective

Do you often read indie or self-published books? Did you read any this month? Tell me about them!

~ Alexa

Advertisements
Reviews

Review: Failure to Communicate

34216194Failure to Communicate byΒ Kaia SΓΈnderby

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:πŸ§œβ€β™€οΈπŸ§œβ€β™€οΈπŸ§œβ€β™€οΈπŸ§œβ€β™€οΈπŸ§œβ€β™€οΈ/5

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Queerly Loving Vol.1

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈/5.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016

36483451Transcendent 2: The Year’s Best Transgender Speculative Fiction 2016 edited by Bogi TakΓ‘cs

Genre: Anthology, LGBTQAI+, SFF
Published: October 22nd 2017 by Lethe Press
Length: 239 pages (Kindle edition)
Number of stories: 16
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Every story in this anthology has trans and other queer characters with various identities.
Sex on page: No

As with the first volume of Transcendent, Lethe Press has worked with a wonderful editor to select the best work of genderqueer stories of the fantastical, stranger, horrific, and weird published the prior year. Featuring stories by Merc Rustad, Jeanne Thornton, Brit Mandelo, and others, this anthology offers time-honored tropes of the genre–from genetic manipulation to zombies, portal fantasy to haunts–but told from a perspective that breaks the rigidity of gender and sexuality.

I received a free copy from the editor, Bogi TakΓ‘cs in exchange for an honest review.

First of all, it was wonderful to see so many trans characters with various identities and experiences, including but far from being limited to various pronouns. There were characters with singular they, characters switching between he and she, and characters using several different sets of neopronouns.

That being said, this anthology was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some stories that I really enjoyed, but a disappointing number of them just didn’t really work for me for reasons that are difficult to verbalise.

Perhaps I should start by mentioning that this anthology had a short story by one of my favourite authors, RoAnna Sylver. I’ve read Happy REGARDS before in the Life Within Parole collection, and I adored – I still adore – it. Still, I was surprised and a little conflicted that it was included in this anthology, for one simple reason: I am not sure it can stand on its own. It has a wonderful cast of characters, but they exist within a world full of many stories – and when you read only one of those stories, things can get hectic and even confusing.

On a smaller scale, I felt this way about several of the other stories – like I was only getting part of the picture. Of course, there is nothing wrong with leaving things up to the reader’s interpretation, but in this anthology, a little too many stories left me baffled or yearning for a little more clarification. This might just be a personal preference, though.

What I really would have appreciated at the beginning is a list of trigger or content warnings for each story, since many of them deal with heavy topics like suicide, suicidal thoughts, depression, bullying… And probably others I either missed or suddenly can’t remember. A few of these are mentioned in the introduction, but I feel like a comprehensive list could have been useful.

I wanted to get those thoughts out of the way, but I also want to talk about the parts that I genuinely enjoyed, so here are a few words about my favourite stories:

Because Change Was The Ocean And We Lived By Her Mercy: My favourite story in this collection, honestly. (Other than Happy REGARDS, of course, but that should go without saying at this point.) Because Change Was The Ocean is a solarpunk-ish story about community and belonging and I would gladly give it five out of five stars. Or more.

Skerry-Bride: This was one of the shortest stories I think, but it had wonderful descriptions about the POV character’s shapechanging lover. There are also many Norse mythology elements.

Transitions: This story was interesting because it started out as a completely ordinary, present-day story about transition, and by that I mean lacking any speculative elements – then some aspects of Indigenous culture were worked into the story and it fit together beautifully.

and, of course, Happy REGARDS: If you follow me on any kind of social media, you have probably seen me scream about Chameleon Moon and RoAnna’s other works before. Happy REGARDS is a wonderful short story that focuses on Evelyn, Danae and Rose’s family, including some siblings, in-laws, and found/chosen family as well.

My rating:Β β˜„οΈβ˜„οΈβ˜„οΈβ˜„οΈ/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:Β πŸ‰πŸ‰πŸ‰πŸ‰πŸ‰/5

~ Alexa