Reviews

Rescues and the Rhyssa: F/F sci-fi adventure

Rescues and the RhyssaTitle: Rescues and the Rhyssa
Author(s): T.S. Porter
Series: 
Genre: Science Fiction
Published: December 12th 2017 by Less Than Three Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship
I received an ARC from the author through the Lesbrary in exchange for an honest review.

This review originally appeared on The Lesbrary on January 13th, 2019.

Cadan is cousin to the King of Nidum star system, and his favorite weapon to needle the Imperial forces encroaching on their territory. With her combat implants and a reckless streak the size of a planet, Cadan has never failed him. 

Pan Sophi, Captain of the Rhyssa, is a smuggler who makes her living off the tensions. With her crew behind her, Sophi’s always on the lookout for the next deal. Anything to keep flying. 

They only get along when they’re falling into bed together. Otherwise the clash between Cadan’s idealism and Sophi’s harsher worldview always results in a fight. But when the King’s children are kidnapped, only Sophi has the skills to help Cadan get them back.

5 stars

Two occasional lovers with many differences team up to save three kidnapped kids. And then it gets even more complicated.

Sophi is the captain of a smuggler ship with a diverse crew, including two types of aliens, a nonbinary human, and Muslim humans as well, if I understood the cultural clues right. They are quite literally a found family, especially with the reptile-like aliens who accept Sophi into their family as a male based on her role, despite her being a human female. I absolutely LOVED the aliens we’ve seen, and the fact that we had the opportunity to see from their perspective. Both the analoids and the blatta were well-developed, unique and complex species with their own culture that is very different from humans, and seeing Sophi as a human make the effort to take part in that culture and adjust was really interesting. (No spoilers, but there was a scene pretty late in the book that showed the crucial importance of having blattas on your ship and it was amazing. I love blattas.)

And then there’s Cadan. Cadan is big, dangerous, scarred, and she doesn’t exist. She has been turned into a weapon for her King that she is endlessly loyal to: she goes where he tells him too without question. And yet, she’s far from being emotionless. We find out early on that she is actually part of the king’s family: his children are her niblings, the king is like a cousin or even a sibling, and she is devoted to all of them because she loves them. I loved to see Cadan with her blood family just as much as I loved to see Sophi with her found family. Both of these families had unique members and plenty of love and care for each other despite their differences. I also really love the idea of a transgender king where it is only casually mentioned once because otherwise it’s not a big deal to anyone. And I love the kids. Seriously, I love the kids.

And of course, there’s Cadan and Sophi together. They are very different people with different values and different goals, which causes a lot of tension in their relationship. Yet, they love each other. There are plenty of sex scenes in this book, some of which seriously made me blush, but one of my favourite scenes was the completely non-sexual yet intimate bondage scene that Sophi used to relax Cadan. I admit that sometimes I felt like there is too much tension and not enough common ground between them for this to actually work as a romantic relationship as opposed to casual sex, but the ending/epilogue was open enough that I can believe them getting to that point.

If you are looking for a F/F sci-fi story with well-developed aliens, relationship conflicts and family dynamics, this might just be for you. I know that I enjoyed it.

content warnings: kidnapping, violence, explicit sexual scenes

~ Alexa

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Reviews

More Likotsi!! – Once Ghosted, Twice Shy

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals, #2.5)Title: Once Ghosted, Twice Shy
Author(s): Alyssa Cole
Series: Reluctant Royals #2.5
Genre: Romance, Contemporary, LGBT
Pages: 106
Published: 
January 8th 2019 by Avon Impulse
LGBTQAI+: F/F ship, lesbian and bisexual mains
On-page sex: yes

While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.

When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

Rating: 4 stars

The Reluctant Royals series reviews:

Likotsi was my favourite side character in A Princess in Theory, and who can forget her iconic “High– Hi… man”? That, and the second book in the series, A Duke by Default was one of my favourite romance novels ever, so I was eager to pick up another novella by Alyssa Cole. This time with lesbians! (Well, one lesbian. Fab is bi/pan, I believe.)

This was a typical Reluctant Royals novella, in a good way: it had all the things I love about the series. Complex characters with interesting hobbies, funny lines and flirts, things I would never think of like mini museums in an elevator, puns like Fab’s username, and more. It also had Likotsi’s POV, and with that, more about Thesolo’s religion and their belief system, which I found really interesting and comforting at the same time. Their concept of the “second death” (that you need to grieve again after briefly meeting a ghost) was heartbreaking, especially the way it was woven into the story. Oh, and the shoes. I loved the beliefs about the shoes. (I swear that one makes sense in context.) I confess to my ignorance and say that I have no idea if Thesolo’s religion is based on any real-world beliefs, so I’m not sure how much credit Cole gets here, but regardless, I liked it.

There is another “typical Reluctant Royals thing” that this book has, something that I usually like, but in a novella this short it was gut-punching and left me with mixed feelings. I’m just going to come out and say this: wow, Alyssa Cole doesn’t do escapism. All her books are incredibly current, full of recent, recognisable events or issues – sometimes that’s the use of social media, a recent meme or musing about the importance of representation, and sometimes it’s the very real threat of deportation, hints to a new government, and things getting worse. Still, perhaps I’m harsh on the “no escapism” thing, because a foreign prince and his assistant do swoop in to save the day and give us a happy ending.

Overall, this novella might have been short but it fit perfectly into the Reluctant Royals series that I love. I hope we’ll get to see more of Likotsi and Fab, even if only as cameos in the later books.

~ Alexa

Reviews

A Little Familiar: Magical Queer Story with Witches

A Little Familiar (Familiar Spirits, #1)Title: A Little Familiar
Author(s): R. Cooper
Series: Familiar Spirits #1
Genre: Paranormal, Fantasy
Pages: 91
Published: 
October 3rd 2015
LGBTQAI+: gay main character, genderfluid (?) love interest
On-page sex: yes

A powerful witch, Piotr Russell has resigned himself to loneliness, because ordinary humans can’t know what he is, and other witches are intimidated by his abilities. Generations of Russells have lived and died with only their familiars at their side. The presence of a friendly familiar is enough to keep even the loneliest witch sane, and yet Piotr deliberately hasn’t chosen one.

The rarest of rare jewels, Bartleby is a human familiar: a witch with no magic of his own, and a desire to find a strong witch to help and serve. In particular, he desires to help and serve Piotr, and everything in Piotr wants to let him. Bartleby was meant to be his familiar; Piotr knows it as surely as he knows when it will rain or when the apples in his garden will ripen. But what Piotr wants from Bartleby, all he’s ever wanted, is for Bartleby to love him, something he thinks is impossible.

Russells live and die unloved, and he won’t allow Bartleby to feel obligated to spend his life with him as his familiar if he could be happy in love with someone else. But Samhain is a time for change, when walls come down and borders grow thin, and Bartleby isn’t going to waste what might be his last chance to convince Piotr that they were meant to be. He might have no magic, but love is a power all its own.

5 stars

“All that, and they’d have to want me too. That seems like a lot to ask of anyone, Bartleby. That’s a job as well as a husband. Why take that on, for a great big boring grouchy bear?”

I wanted my first review of the year to be of a queer story that I really enjoyed, and preferably one that is self-published and/or lesser known. So, here we are.

A Little Familiar is a truly magical read, and I’m not only saying that because it’s about two queer witches. This was one of those books where I absolutely adored the writing style, and I felt like the descriptions really brought the story to life. I could almost taste the cinnamon, apple and pumpkins. It also had a couple of metaphors that I’m STILL squeeing over, because they are so accurate and descriptive, and yet I never would have thought of them.

  • His rage was the gentlest rage imaginable, the briefest, quietest maelstrom in a teacup.
  • His anger was fierce and soft, stinging like kitten’s claws.

There’s a lot of pining in this book, which was excruciating but beautiful to read. The story is from Piotr’s POV, and seeing him be absolutely smitten with Bartleby was amazing, mostly because I was also absolutely smitten with Bartleby.

Bartleby is exactly my type of character, in style, personality, the fact that he’s compared to a trickster spirit, and the fact that he’s genderfluid. Or, is he? It’s a little confusing, because here’s this quote that states he isn’t:

He wasn’t genderfluid, at least, not how Piotr understood the term, but then again perhaps he was. Bartleby was… Bartleby. He wore what he chose to wear and acted how he chose to act. He’d never requested to be addressed by another pronoun or name, he simply was, like a trickster deity of old, although one not interested in deception.

But honestly, Bartleby is so obviously nonbinary in the entire book, that I have a suspicion Piotr (whose POV the above quote is from) just doesn’t get that genderfluid people can exist without necessarily using different names or pronouns. I mean, seriously:

“I’m, um,” Bartleby said, and didn’t immediately finish his thought. He had slipped a barrette into his hair and his lips were sparkling with gloss. The Dorchester Grocery shirt and red coat were familiar, but he had on a wool skirt and indigo tights. “I’m this me, today.”

In conclusion, I definitely read Bartleby as nonbinary, and the representation really worked for me personally as a nonbinary person.

Please read this book and fall in love with Bartleby with me. (Piotr was also great, but let’s be honest, Bartleby stole the entire show for me.)

~ Alexa

Reviews

Some Girls Bind: A Genderqueer Journey to Self-Discovery

Some Girls BindTitle: Some Girls Bind
Author(s): Rory James
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, LGBT, Genderqueer
Published: February 1st 2019 by West 44 Books
LGBTQAI+:  Genderqueer (they/them) protagonist, gay side characters.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Jamie knows that she isn’t like other girls. She has a secret. She binds her chest every day to feel more like herself. Jamie questions why she is drawn to this practice and why she is afraid of telling her friends, who have their own secrets. Could she really be genderqueer?

Rating: 4 stars

When I look in the mirror,
I don’t see a girl and
I don’t see a boy. I just see
my goofy glasses and Beatle-like hair.

Let’s get this out of the way first: the formatting of the ARC I read is horrible. There is a part where the same section repeats 4-5 times, and there are words that are either missing, or look more like keysmashes than actual words, and I have to try to figure out what it was supposed to be. I’m going to try my best not to let this affect my rating and opinion of the content itself.

I was a little skeptical when I saw that this book is written in a poetry-ish style (as in: no rhymes or real logic, but all the lines are really short for some reason), and I often wished that it had been written in prose instead – but despite that, this book felt really real. Seriously, some parts were as if they were taken straight from my internal monologue as an AFAB genderqueer/nonbinary person.

The whole book is really introspective, and there isn’t really a plot other than finding yourself, figuring out your identity, trying to figure out what others would think, etc. There are supportive parents, unsupportive parents, supportive friends, queer side characters, and going to poetry readings by queer poets. There was also a part about the dangers of unsafe binding, and how you might resort to it if you’re desperate but you really shouldn’t.

The main character also doesn’t have a love interest and kind of questions their romantic orientation, so if you’re looking for a queer book without romance, this might be your thing? They don’t consider being aro, though.

Overall, I’m rating this book 4 stars because other than the formatting issues I don’t really have anything negative to say about it. I personally found the main character really relatable and close to my own personal experience, and I can’t recall any parts that could have been offensive or hurtful – but others might think differently, so proceed with caution.

~ Alexa

Reblogs

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities

A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans IdentitiesTitle: A Quick & Easy Guide to Queer & Trans Identities
Author(s): J.R. Zuckerberg, Mady G
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Graphic Novel
Published: April 23rd 2019 by Limerence Press
LGBTQAI+: The focus is on transgender and nonbinary people, with a section on asexuality, and explanation of sexual and romantic orientations in general.
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this quick and easy guide to queer and trans identities, cartoonists Mady G and JR Zuckerberg guide you through the basics of the LGBT+ world! Covering essential topics like sexuality, gender identity, coming out, and navigating relationships, this guide explains the spectrum of human experience through informative comics, interviews, worksheets, and imaginative examples. A great starting point for anyone curious about queer and trans life, and helpful for those already on their own journeys!

Isn’t that cover amazing and beautiful? Yes, it is!

This graphic novel, as the title says, is all about explaining queer identity. It sort of focuses on transgender and nonbinary people, but it has more general sections on gender identity vs romantic/sexual orientation, a section on coming out, discussions of self-love, and even a section on red flags in relationships.

I didn’t expect to learn anything new from this booklet, and yet it made me realise that social dysphoria exists (up until now, I only knew about physical dysphoria) and that I definitely have been experiencing it.

You see so much gatekeeping nowadays that I am wary about most guides like this, but I found this one refreshingly inclusive, with recognising that not every trans person experiences dysphoria, talking about how nonbinary people might experience transness differently from binary trans people, and an entire section on asexuality. Also, both the intro and the outtro talk about the importance of inclusivity, and “making our quilt bigger” if someone doesn’t fit under it.

Other perks of this book include accessible language, fun illustrations with snails, a section at the end where you can write a letter to your past or future self, and more.

That being said, I do have two complaints.

  1. The definition of bisexuality used here is “attraction to the same gender and other genders”. This is definitely better than insisting bi people can only be attracted to binary genders or only two genders, but not every bisexual person is attracted to the same gender (e.g. a woman only being attracted to women and nonbinary people can be bi), and the concept of “same gender” might not mean much to a lot of nonbinary people anyway.
  2. While there is an entire section asexuality, aromanticism is only mentioned in one sentence in the asexual section, and it’s even phrased in a way that implies that only asexual people can be aromantic. This is not true, and there is a bad tendency of only mentioning aromanticism as a “subset” of asexuality when they are different things and not necessarily go together. Since my copy was an ARC, I do hope that the publisher will consider and maybe change this.

Other than those two things, I was pleasantly surprised and content with this guide.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Dear Transphobes, Destiny Says You Suck: No Man Of Woman Born

No Man of Woman Born (Rewoven Tales)Title: No Man Of Woman Born
Author(s): Ana Mardoll
Series: 
Number of stories: 7
Genre: Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 10th 2018 by Acacia Moon Publishing
LGBTQAI+: nonbinary and binary transgender protagonists in every story(Note: I bought this book with my own money, and then downloaded it from NetGalley too because why not.)

Destiny sees what others don’t. 

A quiet fisher mourning the loss of xer sister to a cruel dragon. A clever hedge-witch gathering knowledge in a hostile land. A son seeking vengeance for his father’s death. A daughter claiming the legacy denied her. A princess laboring under an unbreakable curse. A young resistance fighter questioning everything he’s ever known. A little girl willing to battle a dragon for the sake of a wish. These heroes and heroines emerge from adversity into triumph, recognizing they can be more than they ever imagined: chosen ones of destiny. 

From the author of the Earthside series and the Rewoven Tales novels, No Man of Woman Born is a collection of seven fantasy stories in which transgender and nonbinary characters subvert and fulfill gendered prophecies. These prophecies recognize and acknowledge each character’s gender, even when others do not. Note: No trans or nonbinary characters were killed in the making of this book. Trigger warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides are provided for each story. 

Rating: 4.5 stars

This collection of seven stories has been one of my most anticipated releases ever since I found out about it. It’s a collection written by a nonbinary author, for trans readers, “with cis audiences welcomed but not centered”. I was already in tears by the end of the author’s note at the beginning.

No Man of Woman Born plays around with gendered prophecies by using transgender and/or nonbinary protagonists. I loved seeing how the different prophecies are worded, and I loved guessing while reading what the solution to the particular prophecy would be – as well as the ways people can misinterpret it, as in the case of King’s Favor.

I also loved that the book includes content warnings and neopronoun pronunciation guides as well.

Tangled Nets: 4/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, dragons, sacrifices. It wasn’t my favourite, but a nice warm-up.

King’s Favor: 4.5/5 stars. Nonbinary protagonist, witches, queens – and a very entertaining misinterpretation of the prophecy. Plus, a great side character, and an even better protagonist.

His Father’s Son: 5/5 stars. Trans guy protagonist on a revenge quest. I would have loved to see the villain’s face.

Daughter of Kings: 4/5 stars. Sapphic* trans girl protagonist with Arthurian sword-in-the-stone elements. (*There is no romance in the story, but it’s hinted that she likes girls.)

Early to Rise: 5/5 stars. Genderfluid, possibly aromantic Cinderella. This was one of my favourite stories, and the best curse-loophole. Also one of the only stories where the solution was completely different from what I expected.

No Man of Woman Born: 5/5 stars. One of the strongest stories – no wonder this one gave its name to the collection. Women, girls, nonbinary people and others who could be argued to fit the prophecy rally around to kill the evil king. Has a questioning protagonist, a parent who comes out in adulthood, and several trans or nonbinary side characters.

The Wish-Giver: 4/5 stars. Kind of simple compared to the others, but incredibly sweet, and overall a nice ending to the collection. Also, it has a female dragon, so kudos for that. (And some ironic commentary on binary colour-coding children.)

~ Alexa

 

Reviews

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

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

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

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

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

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

Rating: 4.5 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Cold Like Snow: A Polyamorous Ghost Romance

Cold Like SnowTitle: Cold Like Snow
Author(s): Sita Bethel
Series: 
Genre: Paranormal Romance
Published: July 23rd 2018 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: three gay male MCs in a polyamorous relationship
Other representation: 

I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

When René moves into his new home, he didn’t expect it to come with roommates. Two handsome roommates, to be precise. Too bad they’re ghosts.

The fact that they’re dead doesn’t stop them from running their fingers through René’s hair or tackling him onto the bed. It’s not long before things escalate and René finds himself with two ghost lovers that treat him better than any living partner ever has.

However, they can’t eat, can’t go far from the house where they died, and their fingers feel like icicles against René’s skin. The longer René is with them, the more he can sense them, but nothing can reduce the chill of their bodies against his. Still, it might be worth the hypothermia.

rating: 3 stars

I’ve been meaning to read more stories with ghosts (mostly queer romances, but also non-romance stories), so when I saw Cold Like Snow had both ghosts and polyamory, I immediately knew I had to pick it up. The blurb was intriguing as well: after all, isn’t the best thing about ghost romances the little touches that you can’t be sure you really felt?

Cold Like Snow has an established gay couple who died together in their house, and when a third man moves in, they eventually begin a polyamorous relationship that starts purely physical, and turns into genuine feelings. I loved how René gradually saw and felt more of Bastion and Marcus, the ways they found to communicate, and I found some of their banter really funny.

I also loved that the main character, René has a best friend who appears a lot in the story. René and May are both in their thirties and have been friends for twenty years now. They go out drinking together, spend Christmas together because their families are either nonexistent or suck, and only refer to fuckboys as “Gregs”. I loved that they clearly had their little routines and friendship rituals.

My only issue is with the plot, and the issue is that… there isn’t any. That isn’t automatically a bad thing: character-driven novels are great, and as I said, I loved how the character/relationship arcs in this were handled. But sometimes it felt like I was just reading sex scene after sex scene, and honestly, even if I liked sex scenes (which I don’t) I feel like I’d still get tired after the fifth one in a row with some minimal character interaction between.

In short, I loved the concept and characters, but I felt like it was dragged out longer than necessary and just filled with sex scene after sex scene, which I don’t find engaging at all. Thus, 3 stars.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Secondhand Origin Stories: The Queer Superhero Team We Deserve

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

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

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

rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

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