Reviews

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three: A Collection of LGBTQAI+ Fairytales

Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume ThreeTitle: Once Upon a Rainbow, Volume Three
Author(s): W.M. Fawkes, Valentine Wheeler, Mark Lesney,  Sam Burns, A.E. Ross, Elna Holst, N.J. Romaine
Series: Once Upon a Rainbow #3
Genre: LGBTQAI+, Fantasy, Retelling
Published: July 2nd 2018 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: mostly gay and lesbian main characters, including a couple that are asexual, bi or transgender
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Your favorite stories from childhood have a new twist. Seven fairy tales of old with characters across the LGBTQIA+ spectrum.

Green Things Grow from Cinders by A.E. Ross – Glass slippers aren’t for everyone.

Gretel on Her Own by Elna Holst – This time around, Gretel Kindermann is on her own. Or is she?

Bremen Town Musicians by Mark Lesney – Loss and love on the road to Bremen Town.

The Scent of Magic by N.J. Romaine – Who can win a hunt against the Big Bad Wolf?

The Rescue by Sam Burns – Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.

Loose in the Heel, Tight in the Toe by Valentine Wheeler – The shoe fits, the prince is won: now what?

Baile de la Marioneta by W.M. Fawkes – No one else can pull his strings.

Average rating: 4 stars

Overall thoughts: This was a bit of a mixed bag. There were some stories I really loved, and others I really didn’t. I did appreciate that it wasn’t only cis LG retellings, and there were ace and trans characters in some of the stories as well. (Well, one of each, really.)

baile de marioneta by w.m. fawkes: cis M/M. A guy carves a naked guy from wood for his class and the wood guy comes to life. The moment where I realised this was a Pinocchio retelling (for an older age group, certainly) was during the sex scene where the wooden guy started lying and well, it wasn’t his nose that grew. I was going to give it 3 stars on its own, but compared to some of the others it’s 2.5 at best for me.

loose in the hell, tight in the toe by valentine wheeler: This story doesn’t center romance – it’s about a lesbian Cinderella and an asexual prince getting married for their mutual benefit, and also about Cinderella helping her stepsisters and other young girls who are being forced into marriages get away from their abusive family. I also loved that the Fairy Godmother couldn’t magically solve everything, so Cinderella stepped up and did it herself. 5 stars.

green things grow from cinders by a.e.ross: trans M/cis M. Another Cinderella retelling, this time in a modern setting and with a trans guy Cinderella and a cis guy “prince”, which is certainly a first for me. I absolutely loved this story, and I loved how Roman never really commented on Ash being trans, and also how Roman was explicitly bi. Also, I love the title. tw: unintentional misgendering (Ash isn’t out to his friends at first). 5 stars.

the scent of magic by n.j. romaine: cis F/F. This story had everything. It’s a Little Red Riding Hood retelling where the Red/Wolf/Hunter trio isn’t what you’d expect, but it also has a Sleeping Beauty sideplot with a nonbinary Sleeping Beauty (kudos for introducing me to the word “princet”), and also lots of faeries and fae court politics. My only complaint is that it wasn’t a full-length novel: I would have loved to see the rescue of the prince itself. 5 stars.

the rescue by sam burns: cis M/M. “Saving princesses is hard work. Getting out of marrying them is harder.” This was a little funny because I was /so sure/ that I knew the twist but then the twist ended up being something completely different. It’s a M/M romance between a knight and… the friend of a princess. I’m giving 4.5 stars in comparison to the others, because it didn’t quite measure up to the ones I rated 5 stars, but it was still great.

the bremen town musicians by mark lesney: cis M/M. Ehhhhhhh. So like, this is a retelling of a tale with animals, where the characters are actually humans this time but they’re still kind of treated as animals. Also, you know that thing in fairytales when there’s some really fucked up abuse or violence going on but you never really question it as a kid, especially with animal characters? Well, this story has that too, but either because of my age or the human characters it’s more difficult to overlook. tldr; I didn’t enjoy reading this. There is a m/m romance sideplot but it’s not really central. tw: abuse, casual discussion of rape, gy*psy slur used several times. 2.5 stars

gretel on her own by elna holst: This is a cis F/F story where I couldn’t decide whether it’s supposed to be a mystery/horror or a romance, and for most of the story I wondered if there was going to be a positive ending at all. Constant suspicion of the love interest isn’t really what I want in a romance, but I suppose the constant suspicion/questioning was the point. 3.5 stars.

~ Alexa

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

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

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 Takács 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: ☄️☄️☄️☄️/5

~ 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 🦔