Reviews

The Queen of Rhodia: F/F Fantasy with Established Relationship and DRAGONS

The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya Book 3)Title: The Queen of Rhodia
Author(s): Effie Calvin
Series: Tales of Inthya #1
Genre: Young Adult Fantasy
Pages: 280
Published: 
May 27th 2019 by NineStar Press
LGBTQAI+: F/F main ship between pansexual mains, F/F side ship
Other: fat protagonist

It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

5+ stars

This fantasy series deserves so much love. I mean, come on! Pansexual princesses in love! Talking dragons! Goddesses and warriors! What’s not to love?

The Queen of Rhodia follows the pansexual F/F couple who got together in the first book, now in an established relationship, with the F/F couple from the second book appearing as side characters.

Esofi and Adale are married now, and they never run out of things to do. Adele is finally learning how to govern from her parents, Esofi is working on establishing a university for magical students, and they are raising a son together, who just happens to be a baby dragon. But when both news of a dragon wanting to talk to Esofi AND Esofi’s mother arrives in Ieflaria, they have even more to deal with than they would have thought…

I loved how realistically their differences and occasionally relationship problems were written. Esofi and Adale both have their own insecurities, and Esofi, like many abused children, has views that she doesn’t even realise are wrong, because they were normal when she was growing up. I love how Adale doesn’t judge her, but still makes it clear that those things are wrong, and Esofi’s mother was wrong to do them.

We learn more about the dragons and also Lisette, who was one of my favourites in book one, which was great. Svana and her brother are back, which is also great! There is so much worldbuilding potential in this series, and I’m eager to learn more about the elves and the Nightshades and the Empire. I admit I skipped book two, but I’m fully intending to go back and read it eventually, and meeting the characters here only gave me more motivation (but unfortunately, not money).

That being said, there were a couple of things in the worldbuilding that felt like missed opportunities to me. In the world of the series, a third gender, here called neutroi are officially recognised – but at least in the two books I read, we don’t actually meet a single neutroi who has more than a few lines.

There is a ritual called Change, where basically they can change one’s sex with magic – it’s something many people use to experiment or to have children, but it is mentioned that there are people who chose to stay permanently Changed, which would be equivalent of transgender people. Again, we never actually MEET anyone who is like this, or at least we don’t know about it. I know it’s probably a personal topic so it would be more difficult to bring up, but I don’t think it would be a stretch to have someone drop a comment about it.

There is also a kind of weird scene where Adale mentally compares gay and straight people (those who are only attracted to one gender) to a woman who refuses to date taller than her. She actually corrects herself, because gay and straight people don’t have a choice about their attractions, and it’s clearly just Adale’s opinion, but it was still weird and I want to mention it for others.

Finally, humans in the series are called Men instead of just Humans, which is… something I would have expected in a “mainstream” fantasy that replicates real-world sexism, but it was jarring to read in a book with pansexual princesses that has very different gender roles from ours. There is also a scene where Adale is speaking about a culprit whose gender she doesn’t know and she defaults to saying “him” instead of “them” (even though her main suspect is a woman, so it can’t even be a Freudian slip). It’s not necessarily bad, but male default language in this world didn’t make much sense to me.

Overall, I loved this book, and I absolutely adore this series and I’m eager to see the other countries that we’ll visit in future books. The next one is titled Empress of Xytae, and the princess of Xytae was mentioned briefly in this book, so I’m excited to see more of her – although she’s a liiitle too young for a YA protagonist.

NOTE: The book does give a trigger warning about past child abuse, but I didn’t really feel like it was accurate/enough. It is true that Esofi is not a child anymore and currently living away from her mother, so the abuse is less obvious, but it’s still clearly there in their present-time interactions, along with its effects on Esofi’s own views. So, consider this an extra warning that the child abuse is a central part of the story, not just a passing thing.

~ Alexa

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Reviews

I Wish You All The Best: The Story of a Nonbinary Teen

I Wish You All the BestTitle: I Wish You All The Best
Author(s): Mason Deaver
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary, Romance
Pages: 336
Published:
May 14th 2019 by Push
LGBTQAI+: bisexual nonbinary teen protagonist, bisexual dark-skinned (unspecified) cis male love interest, nonbinary side character, nonbinary author

When Ben De Backer comes out to their parents as nonbinary, they’re thrown out of their house and forced to move in with their estranged older sister, Hannah, and her husband, Thomas, whom Ben has never even met. Struggling with an anxiety disorder compounded by their parents’ rejection, they come out only to Hannah, Thomas, and their therapist and try to keep a low profile in a new school.

But Ben’s attempts to survive the last half of senior year unnoticed are thwarted when Nathan Allan, a funny and charismatic student, decides to take Ben under his wing. As Ben and Nathan’s friendship grows, their feelings for each other begin to change, and what started as a disastrous turn of events looks like it might just be a chance to start a happier new life.

At turns heartbreaking and joyous, I Wish You All the Best is both a celebration of life, friendship, and love, and a shining example of hope in the face of adversity.

4.5 stars

[ source: pre-ordered with my own money ]

I Wish You All The Best is the story of a nonbinary teen with anxiety who gets kicked out of home by their parents after coming out. The coming out scene is in the first chapter, so the book starts with a pretty big punch. Ben moves in with their sister and brother-in-law, who are both supportive, and they make new friends and continue making their art at school. Oh, yes, and there is a boy.

I loved Nathan, he was funny and bright and supportive, and I also liked the two girl side characters, although they didn’t feature as much. I also loved that Ben has a nonbinary long-distance friend (who is older than them, although I’m not sure by how much) who has helped them as both a best friend and a kind of “mentor”.

Ben goes to a therapist and takes anxiety medication, and while they are unsure about it at first, it’s ultimately presented as a positive thing, so that was nice.

Still, this is another one of those queer books that I expected to be fluffy based on the cover and title, and it’s… not really? It has a happy ending and a cute romance, but it also has shitty parents, anxiety, panic attacks, conflict with the sibling, and I feel like there was more of that than the fluff.

Ben comes out to Nathan really, really late in the story. Of course, you as the reader logically know that Nathan won’t react badly, but it’s strange to see them grow closer and have a crush and everything while Nathan doesn’t know such a defining thing about them, and keeps unintentionally misgendering them. It is understandable based on Ben’s bad experiences, but it still surprised me.

I also wished there was some more about what being nonbinary means for Ben. It was nice that it wasn’t the only focus and they had other interests, but there was more about the negative consequences of coming out than the positive, affirming sides of being nonbinary, which I really missed. I loved the small scenes like Ben choosing to have their sister paint their nails, and I would have loved more.

tldr; This is a really good and important debut (!) book about a nonbinary teen, and it has a happy ending with a supportive circle. However, it’s not as fluffy as I expected, and it fell a little short of my expectations in other ways too. That’s just me, though.

content warnings: asshole parents, being kicked out, stressful coming out situation, anxiety, panic attacks, misgendering (both intentional, and due to not being out)

EXTRA WARNING: There is a scene where Ben goes to a party and they are pressured into drinking even though they really don’t want to, one of the guy’s is being loud and I think actually slaps their butt, and then they have a panic attack, so yeah, it was a lot.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Roam: The Story of a Homeless Teenager

RoamTitle: Roam
Author(s): C.H. Armstrong
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary, Young Adult
Pages: 320
Published: 
February 5th 2019 by Central Avenue Publishing
LGBTQAI+: a gay side character
Other representation: homeless main character

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

Seventeen year-old Abby Lunde and her family are living on the streets. They had a normal life back in Omaha, but thanks to her mother’s awful mistake, they had to leave what little they had behind for a new start in Rochester. Abby tries to be an average teenager—fitting into school, buoyed by dreams of a boyfriend, college, and a career in music. But Minnesota winters are unforgiving, and so are many teenagers.

Her stepdad promises to put a roof over their heads, but times are tough for everyone and Abby is doing everything she can to keep her shameful secret from her new friends. The divide between rich and poor in high school is painfully obvious, and the stress of never knowing where they’re sleeping or where they’ll find their next meal is taking its toll on the whole family.

As secrets are exposed and the hope for a home fades, Abby knows she must trust those around her to help. But will her friends let her down the same way they did back home, or will they rise to the challenge to help them find a normal life?

4 stars

At first glance, Roam is your typical high school romance story: new girl arrives at the school, popular boy is immediately interested in her, popular boy’s bitchy ex-girlfriend goes on to bully new girl for the entire year… You know how it goes. Only this time, the new girl happens to be homeless, and next to worrying about homecoming, she also has to worry about her little sister getting enough food and not freezing to death in the van they’re living in.

Roam was tough to read at times. Although we have never been homeless, some of the financial struggle and awkward lies Abby tells were familiar to me. No teen should hear their parents desperately trying and failing to provide for them, and yet many do. There was a constant anxiety in the book – I as the reader knew that sooner or later Abby and her family would be caught, her secret would come out, she would have to deal with that fallout. And of course, it eventually happened, although it was very different from what I expected.

What I really appreciated in the book is that so many people meet Abby and her family with kindness. There were people willing to help everywhere, despite the awful situation they were put in. While it’s much less positive, I also liked Abby’s flashbacks, and the way completely innocent things sometimes reminded her of the trauma she was put through in her previous school.

I’m going to admit here that I really, really hate the mean girl bully type. Maybe I was just insanely lucky in my high school years, because while I didn’t get through them completely bullying-free, some of the stuff fictional bullies do just goes way over what I can believe. Still, in this case (while I can’t say much without spoilers) I felt like Trish’s case was handled nicely in the end.

Overall, Roam is a mix between your average hetero high school romance, and a story about a girl living homeless with her parents and little sister. It is an emotional read, but thankfully it has both negative and positive emotions, and ultimately ends on a positive note.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Sadie: A Brutal Read About Abused Children

SadieTitle: Sadie
Author(s): Courtney Summers
Series: 
Genre: Mystery, Young Adult
Published: September 4th 2018 by St. Martin’s Press
LGBTQAI+: unspecified sapphic MC and mlm MC
I received an ARC from the publisher through NetGalley in exchange from an honest review.

A missing girl on a journey of revenge and a Serial-like podcast following the clues she’s left behind.

Sadie hasn’t had an easy life. Growing up on her own, she’s been raising her sister Mattie in an isolated small town, trying her best to provide a normal life and keep their heads above water.

But when Mattie is found dead, Sadie’s entire world crumbles. After a somewhat botched police investigation, Sadie is determined to bring her sister’s killer to justice and hits the road following a few meager clues to find him.

When West McCray—a radio personality working on a segment about small, forgotten towns in America—overhears Sadie’s story at a local gas station, he becomes obsessed with finding the missing girl. He starts his own podcast as he tracks Sadie’s journey, trying to figure out what happened, hoping to find her before it’s too late.

Courtney Summers has written the breakout book of her career. Sadie is propulsive and harrowing and will keep you riveted until the last page.

tw: pedophilia, child sexual abuse, drug addiction, murder

rating: 4 stars

You know a book is going to be heavy when it starts with a thirteen-year-old getting murdered, but that doesn’t even begin to describe Sadie.

I don’t expect it to bring her back. It won’t bring her back.
It’s not about finding peace. There will never be peace.

After her little sister, Mattie is murdered, all that keeps Sadie alive is the need to find Mattie’s killer and kill him herself. She knows who she’s looking for, but her search for him unearths more secrets than anyone planned for – not only about Sadie and her sister and the man, but other girls, other kids and other monsters as well.

Except it’s not in my head, it’s in my heart, and she’s the same woman who told me if you’re going to follow anything, it might as well be that.

Meanwhile, a man called West McCray follows Sadie’s route in his podcast The Girls, hoping to catch up to her. He interviews Sadie’s family, and everyone she met on the way.

This book is a truly mystery: with the alternating POVs between Sadie and the podcast, we see different sides to every character, hear different sides to every story. We truly learn that people can be biased narrators, and sometimes the stories conflict, or we find out later that something we learned earlier wasn’t true at all – either because somebody lied, or simply because somebody assumed wrong.

I don’t like to treat someone’s sexuality as a spoiler, so I’m not going to put a spoiler tag here, but it was nice to find out that while there isn’t much focus on it, neither of the main characters are straight. West mentions a husband at one point, while Sadie implies she can be interested in people regardless of gender.

Sadie was definitely a heavy read, but also I couldn’t put it down. The short chapters switching between the podcast and Sadie’s own POV really made it easy to just fly through it, and when I had to go out on an errand, I kept waiting to get back home so I could read more. It’s almost 400 pages, but it felt like 200 at most – although that might have been because of the podcast format.

And the ending – well, let me just say that West speaks for all of us in those last lines.

~ 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

In Which I Read Julia Ember and Spread Love For F/F Fantasy (Unicorn Tracks & The Seafarer’s Kiss)

Julia Ember is a writer of fantasy books with (mostly) sapphic main characters. Unicorn Tracks is her debut novel, but The Seafarer’s Kiss seems to be the most popular. I recently read both of her books in the same month (although in reverse order – I read the Seafarer’s Kiss first) and decided to do a double review.

Unicorn TracksUNICORN TRACKS

Mnemba is a tour guide at her cousin’s business where she leads tourists in the wilderness to track rare animals such as… chimeras, manticores, freshwater mermaids and occasionally unicorns?! This story takes place in a fictional fantasy country based on Africa (specifically South Africa if I’m correct), and I loved how most of the story/world was actually realistic, except for, you know, the magical creatures casually living alongside lions and such. The main characters are both sixteen years old girls (so it was a little strange that the blurb refers to them as women) who navigate their own attraction to each other as they try to uncover a plot to use unicorns for illegal deeds. The book is quite short, so there isn’t too much time for details, but we still learn some things about both Mnemba’s and Kara’s cultures. I especially liked the way Mnemba’s culture treated “blood crimes” (mostly rape and murder), which is a big plot point in the book.

tw: mentions of past rape, people expecting the survivor to forgive the rapist, and also an in-book attempted rape

The Seafarer's Kiss (The Seafarer's Kiss #1)THE SEAFARER’S KISS

The Seafarer’s Kiss is a Norse mythology retelling of The Little Mermaid where instead of a sea witch, the main character makes a deal with Loki, god of lies, whose month she was born in.

It actually had much less focus on the love interest than I expected, and more focus on the bisexual main character wanting to get away from an oppressive regime and outplaying the god of trickery. I loved how it was stated explicitly several times that while Ragna is neat, Ersel made her choices for herself (and in some cases her mother/community) only.

I know some people have issues with the fact that the only nonbinary character in the book is the literal god of lies and deceit, and those are entirely valid feelings. I definitely would have appreciated more nonbinary characters (and hope that maybe the sequel will be better in this respect?) but I also have a weak spot for Loki. I loved their representation and how they were both angry and impressed when Ersel outsmarted them.

I can’t wait to see Ragna’s half of the story.

~ Alexa

Reviews

You’re You: A Contemporary About Questioning Sexuality

You're YouTitle: You’re You
Author(s): Mette Bach
Series: 
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: August 1st 2018 by Lorimer
LGBTQAI+: questioning main character (lesbian -> bisexual), multiple gay side characters
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

In this book author Mette Bach offers a believable portrayal of an LGBTQ teen who has always identified as a lesbian. When she finds herself attracted to a South Asian boy, she comes to a new identity for herself as bisexual.

17-year-old Freyja is outspokenly lesbian and politically active about LGBTQ issues at her school’s Gay-Straight Alliance. When her girlfriend Rachel breaks up with her, she suspends her work on the online video blog they created together to celebrate their pride. Instead she starts volunteering at the local food bank. But she can’t figure out why the team leader at the food bank, a guy named Sanjay, doesn’t seem to approve of her. Freyja learns about food justice, and becomes attracted to Sanjay’s passion for the cause. As her friendship with Sanjay grows, she realizes that they connect in a way she never did with Rachel. But can Freyja be in love with Sanjay if she identifies as a lesbian? When members of her school’s GSA assume that Freyja has “gone straight” and oppose her leadership of the group, Freyja has to choose between sticking with her old idea of herself — and taking a chance on love.

My rating: 3.5 stars

I picked up this book because it was about a girl who identifies as a lesbian realising she’s bisexual. This is something that is completely normal in real life, but it can be done really badly in fiction, so I wasn’t sure what to expect.

Overall, I’d say that Freyja’s character, struggle and questioning was realistic. There wasn’t anything to suggest that “lesbians will realise they like guys eventually” – the questioning was strictly about Freyja’s herself, as it should have been. However, while I think the questioning was handled well on Freyja’s part, the straight male love interest’s attitude sometimes made me uncomfortable, especially the way she suggested that labels weren’t important.

Now, onto the rest of the plot: One of my favourite things was that the book really dealt with important issues. Freyja thinks queer issues are important and leads her local GSA, but she also volunteers at the local food bank because she wants to make a difference and help people who are in need. I admit that sometimes both her and Sanjay seemed a little extreme and preachy, but overall I really liked that they were shown to be active and conscious teenagers.

I also liked that Freyja wasn’t perfect: she was a little too controlling, a little too aggressive sometimes, but it was called out. She realised that she had to improve, and actually made an effort to do so, which was great. That being said, Freyja also had the tendency to be really judgmental of other girls, and I don’t feel like this part was addressed adequately.

As for the writing style, this book used a lot of very short sentences that could have easily been combined for easier flow. This was sometimes really distracting, and I think it could have benefited from more… variety in sentence-lengths.

One issue I had with the book was that at least three times in the story, Freyja uses queer and lesbian interchangably. When people assume she is attracted to guys, she laughs and says “I’m queer” like that should explain why they are wrong, even though “queer” is an umbrella term that includes PLENTY of girls who are still attracted to guys. Just say gay or lesbian, damnit.

There were also a couple of lines about race that made me uneasy, but since I’m white, it’s not really my place to judge if they are bad, so I’m only describing them: It is not clear what race Freyja is, but I’m fairly certain she is white, and yet she has dreadlocks. There is also a part where she’s talking to the Indian love interest, Freyja says something about “guys like you”, Sanjay asks “what guys? brown guys?” and Freyja is immediately insulted because how dare anyone assume she would ever say something racist? The conversation itself was okay, but the fact that Freyja got so badly insulted by the mere assumption was just weird.

In short, this book had some issues but all in all it was a good read. I wish we had more questioning protagonists in YA who are allowed to question and have their identity change without being judged for it.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Omen Operation: The Ultimate Bisexual Squad

Omen Operation (The Isolation Series #1)Title: Omen Operation
Author(s): Taylor Brooke
Series: The Isolation Series #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction
Published: June 18th 2018 by NineStar Press (re-release)
LGBTQAI+: multiple bisexual mains (both male and female), gay side character
Sex on page: No
I received an ARC through through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

An epidemic hits the country, and Brooklyn Harper is stolen from the life she knew.

Implanted in a rural camp, Brooklyn and her friends are severed from their families and the outside world. Each day is filled with combat training to assure their safety against a mysterious virus and the creatures it creates—violent humanoids with black blood.

Two years later, Brooklyn’s cabin-mate, Dawson Winters, finds a letter that shatters the illusion they’ve been living in. There is a world outside Camp Eleven, and the virus that supposedly destroyed their country seems non-existent.

After a daring escape, Brooklyn finds the world they’ve left behind harbors the normalcy she remembers. But when they are attacked by a black-blooded creature in the city, Brooklyn and her friends realize there is more to Camp Eleven than they thought.

Someone took them, someone trained them, and now someone is trying to find them.

As their exploration continues, the group is faced with impossible feats while betrayal, love, and secrets force Brooklyn and her friends to fight for their life, their freedom, and most of all, each other.

My rating: 3 stars

All I knew about this book going in was that it had a bisexual MC, and there’s maybe a female love interest. In reality, the four core characters in this book are all bisexual (two guys and two girls), and they are involved with each other in all kinds of combinations – so, the bisexual female MC has both a female and a male love interest who are both bisexual themselves.

While there are no central nonbinary characters, there is a small acknowledgment that bisexuality isn’t only about being attracted to the binary genders, so that was nice. As I said, Brooklyn is both into Gabriel (female) and Porter (male) and Gabriel is dating Dawson (male) who Porter is also into, but I’d hesitate to call it real polyamory – although that might be where the series is heading. I’m curious to see how these relationships evolve in the next book(s).

As for the plot… honestly, I don’t have much to say that wasn’t already in the blurb. Half the big secrets were already revealed in the first chapter, which felt a little soon, I would have preferred more time in the camp maybe. Then something happened to my favourite character around halfway in that just made me stop caring about the book, and if not for the last chapter, I probably wouldn’t have rated it above 2 stars.

All in all, this was an okay read and I certainly appreciate the amount of queer representation, but it felt very much like the beginning of something, like an introduction, and I don’t think it’s particularly enjoyable without the rest of the series.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Art of Escaping

The Art of EscapingTitle: The Art of Escaping
Author(s): Erin Callahan
Series: none
Genre: Young Adult, Contemporary
Published: June 19th 2018 by Amberjack Publishing
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: Gay teenage boy as secondary POV character
Sex on page: None
I received an ARC through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review.

Seventeen-year-old Mattie hides her obsession with Harry Houdini and Dorothy Dietrich from everyone she knows, even her best friend. Then her best friend takes off for summer boarding school and all of Mattie’s anxieties bubble to the surface, leaving her feeling adrift. To distract herself, she seeks out Miyu, the reclusive daughter of a world-renowned escape artist whose life and career were snuffed out by a tragic plane crash.

With Miyu’s help, Mattie secretly transforms herself into a burgeoning escapologist and performance artist. Away from the curious eyes of her peers, she thrives in her new world of lock picking, straitjackets, and aquarium escapes. But when Will, a popular varsity athlete, discovers her act at an underground venue, she fears that her double life will be exposed. Instead of outing her, Will tells Mattie something he’s never told anyone before. But not all secrets can remain secrets forever.

Told through multiple perspectives, this funny and fresh debut explores the power of stage personas and secret spaces, and speaks to the uncanny ways in which friendship transforms us.

Rating: 4.4 stars

The Art of Escaping is a young adult novel about finding your passion, focusing on a very unique art: escapology, or escape art. I was intrigued by this book both because the topic sounded like something I’ve never read before, and because I heard that one of the POV characters is gay.

To keep this review honest, I need to admit that I didn’t really enjoy this book at first. Mattie, the main character was relatable in that frustrating way that reminds you of all your insecurities, and she was also pissing me off. I didn’t understand why she went straight to being convinced that nobody would accept her, sneaking out and lying to everyone’s faces without even trying to talk to anybody. Will, the gay side character didn’t often get to have a POV, and when he did, he felt pretentious. Mattie’s and Will’s secrets were portrayed as equal, which was wrong. I almost DNFed the book.

Fortunately, once I pushed through that first part, the book seemed to redeem all its mistakes. Mattie finally started interacting with her friends: Stella came back, Will started hanging out with her, and a new character, Frankie was introduced, who immediately stole my heart. (Seriously, every sentence out of Frankie’s mouth is amazing. I love him so much.) Mattie even realised that her secret will never be equal to Will’s, which I appreciated. The characters still felt pretentious sometimes and they certainly made bad decisions (looking at you, Will), but they’re teenagers, so once the other problems were fixed I started forgiving them for this one instead of being frustrated.

I’ve always fantasized about being drafted into a shady, international spy organization with no formal ties to the government. This is almost as good.

As the book went on, Mattie went from the uninteresting kid at school to a master escape artist. Even though I figured that the main character is not going to die in a young adult novel, all the scenes (both practice and performance) where she had to escape from something felt tense, terrifying and captivating. I loved the little diary segments before every chapter from the diary of Mattie’s role model, and the little reveal about this diary towards the end put everything in a different, even more interesting perspective.

An entire book could be written about Miyu and her relationship to her mother: it would be a really sad, but certainly a really fascinating book. We only caught little glimpses of Miyu’s thoughts and true emotions, but I really would have loved to learn more, especially because some of it really resonated with me. God knows “emotional quicksand” is something I experience daily.

Sometimes, I’d watch her stand on the threshold, trying to force her feet forward, stuck in some kind of emotional quicksand.

While most of the book was from Mattie’s perspective, we had the chance to see some of the scenes from Will’s POV as well, and this was especially interesting when the two of them didn’t exactly on agree on how things went down. Nothing is funnier than when one character makes a dramatic assumption of somebody’s thoughts, and that person goes “yeah, that’s not what I was thinking at all”.

Will made some bad decisions before coming out and it all caught up to him in the end, but I liked how he really owned up to his mistakes when it mattered. He came out several times in the book (five, I think?) and all of them were somehow different based on the situation and the person, which I really loved to see. People like to think coming out is one big thing, but in reality, it’s lots of little things that keep happening every time you meet somebody new.

If I come out in high school, I still have to come out in college, and then at work. It’s like I’m facing an endless line of people assuming I’m something I’m not. And it’s great that more and more people are cool with it in this day and age, but I’ll always have to deal with the possibility that someone won’t be. And what if that uncool person ends up being my college roommate, or my boss, or my father-in-law?

One thing that I felt unsure about was the way Will’s mother was openly fetishistic towards gay men – it was presented as a bad thing, but I sort of felt like it was presented more as an annoying quirk than the really bad thing it should have been? And it only came up a couple of times and was never resolved in this book. I’m not sure if there’s going to be a sequel here, but that is definitely one of the plotlines that wasn’t closed in this one.

Notes:

  • There were a few lines in the ARC I read that made me feel really bad, but I learned that the author chose to remove these lines from the final version after another reviewer pointed it out, so points for listening to feedback.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Review: The Girl and the Grove

39934046The Girl and the Grove by Eric Smith

Genre: Young Adult, Fantasy
Published: May 8th 2018 by North Star Editions
Purchase: Publisher | Amazon | Book Depository
LGBTQAI+: None
Other representation: adopted MC of colour (#ownvoices) with seasonal affective disorder

Teenager Leila’s life is full of challenges. From bouncing around the foster care system to living with seasonal affective disorder, she’s never had an easy road. Leila keeps herself busy with her passion for environmental advocacy, monitoring the Urban Ecovists message board and joining a local environmental club with her best friend, Sarika. And now that Leila has finally been adopted, she dares to hope her life will improve.

But the voices in Leila’s head are growing louder by the day. Ignoring them isn’t working anymore. Something calls out to her from the grove at Fairmount Park. Is she ready to answer?

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

The Girl and the Grove was one of my most anticipated 2018 releases. I requested the ARC months ago and I was overjoyed when I got it, but somehow I only got around to reading it in May.

It was awesome to read a book with a teen protagonist whose hobby is protecting the environment, with a fondness for trees in particular. I also think this is one of the only #ownvoices books with an adopted protagonist that I’ve read, especially a protagonist who was adopted as a teen and not as a small child. (In fact, the only one I can suddenly think of is one of Vavyan Fable’s books, but as far as I know, that wasn’t #ownvoices.) It was really interesting to read about Leila’s experiences, and how she struggled with accepting that she finally had a home and a family.

I also loved the text messages, Google searches and messages from a forum/board that appeared between chapters. I always love books that have some kind of quote or social media messages in each chapter that gives more information about the characters and their lives, even outside of what we see in the books.

The plot itself was exciting as well, and even terrifying at some points as Leila and her friends were running out of time to save the grove and their city. I loved Leila’s best friend, her parents, and also her love interest. (Jon’s dad jokes were the best, and also the way he and Liz cared for Leila.)

I’m giving it four stars because the characterisation and the writing style didn’t always work for me, but ultimately this was a pretty great book. It’s an urban contemporary story with just a little fantasy/magic written into it.

My rating: 🌳🌳🌳🌳/5.

~ Alexa