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

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Reviews

ARC Review: Baker Thief

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

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

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

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

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

My rating: 4 stars

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: Lost Boy, Found Boy

36697937Lost Boy, Found Boy by Jenn Polish

Genre: Retelling, LGBTQAI+, Science Fiction
Release date: March 19th 2018 by NineStar Press
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Transgender male MC, nonbinary LI, sapphic side characters.
Sex on page: No

In a futuristic world, Neverland is a holomatrix, Hook is a cyborg, and Tinker Bell is an automated computer interface. 

Peter is desperate to save his lover from a military draft that, unbeknownst to him, Mir volunteered for because they are desperate to be able to fly. So, naturally, Peter programs an entire island—Neverland—as a refuge where Mir can fly without having to fight in a war. 

But he doesn’t locate Mir right away; instead, he fights for control of the island with automated interface Tinker Bell, and in his attempts to find Mir, others arrive on the island. But Peter’s single-minded focus on Mir generates repercussions for everyone.

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

But this wasn’t a kiss like any other; because by the time they both needed to breathe, by the time Peter’s hands were completely wound in Mir’s hair and Mir’s hands were thoroughly occupied with holding Peter at the hips, they both realized that they’d taken flight.

This was a lovely queer retelling of Peter Pan where Peter is trans, the main love interest is nonbinary (with they/them pronouns), “Wendy” and Tinker Bell are both sapphic, and “Captain Hook” is another one of their friends.

I loved the little intermissions (Tinker Bell’s “thoughts”) and the concept of Neverland as a virtual reality island. I also loved how so many parts of the original story, like Tinker Bell’s chiming or James’s hook was translated into this new world.

This story is less than 100 pages, and while some parts fell a little flat, I ended up loving it by the end. It also ends with one m/m/nb and one f/f relationship, which made my heart really happy.

Note: There are two comments in the early chapters where strangers misgender Peter based on his appearance, but thankfully this doesn’t happen later. There is also one sentence where I got a little confused, but I think he/him pronouns were used for Mir because it doesn’t make sense if the sentence was referring to someone else? I’m inclined to believe this was a typo/one-time mistake though because Mir’s pronouns are otherwise respected everywhere else.

The author is also nonbinary using they/them pronouns, so this is #ownvoices for nonbinary rep.

My rating: 🧚🧚🧚🧚🧚/5.

~ 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 🐉

Reviews

Review: Chameleon Moon

The city of Parole is burning. Like Venice slips into the sea, Parole crumbles into fire.

The entire population inside has been quarantined, cut off from the rest of the world, and left to die – directly over the open flame. Eye in the Sky, a deadly and merciless police force ensures no one escapes. Ever. All that’s keeping Parole alive is faith in the midst of horrors and death, trust in the face of desperation… and their fantastic, terrifying, and beautiful superhuman abilities.

“Words are important. They let you know it’s real, you’re fine, more people like you exist. They let you know you’re not alone.”

“Holy crap…” Regan whispered, awed and sick and proud at the same time. “She punched it in the face.”

Why I picked it up: I was told there was a f/f/f polyrelationship and also ace character(s)?

Let me tell you how absolutely wonderful this book is.

The Cast

Chameleon Moon’s strongest aspect is its characters. Wonderful, colourful, diverse cast of characters. There is indeed a polyamorous marriage between three women, a main character who is a trans woman, a character who uses ‘they’ pronouns through the entire novel, disabled characters, representation of anxiety, and lots and lots of validation for mental illnesses such as anxiety, depression, or PTSD. And many more, that my tags on this book can’t even cover.

I am so incredibly excited about a certain relationship other than the polymarriage, but I feel like that would be a huge spoiler, so I’m just going to put this here for anyone who’s already read it: I LOVE THEM SO MUCH.

The Plot

I have to admit, it took me a while to get into this book. The prologue pulled me in, but then the first half of the book felt… slow. It was mostly about getting to know the characters for me, and hinting at the big mystery without any real answers. Not that getting to know the characters is bad – as I said, they are the greatest thing about this book -, but the first half often felt a little boring to me, and there were a lot of conversations that went on too long, or infodumps that were a little too much at once.

The second half, though? I read pretty much the entire second half in one sitting. The twists just kept coming and the secrets kept pouring out. And plenty of questions remaining for the sequel.

There are some things I don’t like about the ending that would be spoilery, but I understand how they are necessary. I was originally going to give this 4.5 stars, but as I typed this review out, I realised that it fully deserves all five.

Trigger warnings

I would like to put a warning for suicide (mention) here, and also, the descriptions of anxiety can be triggering to anyone who also experiences it.

My rating: ★★★★★

~ Alexa 🦔