Reviews

I’m Back, And What is This?! – Also, A Review of Ciel by Sophie Labelle

Hi everyone! After my huge unplanned hiatus, I am back, and – holy hell, what IS up with WordPress?! I am very happy that there is still a “Classic” block I can use that is more or less what I’m used to, because otherwise these blocks look very overwhelming. Useful, maybe, but overwhelming.

You may have noticed that I slightly changed my url – I was also planning a new banner or something, but frankly, I am very bad at graphic design and I haven’t had the energy or the time to do it. Oops? Just being honest with you all.

The quick summary of my absence is that I finished my Masters degree and my thesis that I wrote on Austin Chant’s Peter Darling (with an online thesis defense!) and right now I am looking for a job, which is… very difficult. I returned here because I missed book blogging, although I can’t promise I’m going to update regularly. But I’ll try my best?!

(Can you imagine I was still signing my last blog post as Alexa? Yeah, that’s not a thing anymore.)

And now, on to the review! Ciel by Sophie Labelle is coming out on September 15, 2020, and I was lucky enough to get a NetGalley copy so I can share my thoughts with you.

CielTitle: Ciel
Author(s): Sophie Labelle
Series:
Genre: Middle Grade
Pages: 192
Published:
September 15th 2020 by Second Story Press
LGBTQAI+: trans woman author, transgender/nonbinary protagonist, bisexual & trans side characters

Rating: 🌈🌈🌈🌈🌈 | 5

And if I’m lucky, I’ll see a fox. 🦊

Ciel was the first book I read by Sophie Labelle, although I’ve been following her online comics for a long time now, so I was already familiar with some of the characters. Ciel as a character has been an inspiration for me as somebody who is unapologetic about their transness and their appearance. These kids are so much stronger than I could have been in high school – but maybe it would have helped if I had examples like these in the books I read.

Ciel is a great book because it has several (THREE!) transgender main characters, as well as a cis (?) little brother who likes wearing dresses and doing feminine things, so it really portrays a variety of experiences without making any of them be “The Trans Experience”. In school, Sophie, who was out and proud in middle school, would prefer to go stealth and not be known as “the trans girl” in their new high school. Ciel is conflicted about this, and also faces the problem where it is pretty much impossible for nonbinary people to “pass” as their real gender, because people are so deeply stuck in binaries.

Ciel is also a great book because the characters in it all appear as real people, with their own interests and love troubles and whatnot. I mean – WE knew trans people were real people, but it’s always nice to show that to the rest of the world! We have three different trans experiences in this book, as well as many different allies who are doing their best in different ways.

Finally, Ciel is a great book because it shows how far we have to go even as a community. I have sadly experienced in both online and offline LGBT groups that the LGB part very often can be transphobic, and even the binary T can be very exclusionary and hostile towards nonbinary people. Ciel’s experience at the GSA is sadly very close to some of my experiences in cis queer spaces, and their conflict with an older trans girl is very close to some of my experiences in trans groups.

All in all, Ciel (the book!) is both realistic and uplifting, and a good way to maybe introduce cis children to the topic of trans kids.

~ Alex

 

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

Reviews

Into the Drowning Deep: Killer Mermaids and Killer Writing

Into the Drowning Deep (Rolling in the Deep, #1)Title: Into the Drowning Deep
Author(s): Mira Grant [ Seanan McGuire ]
Series: Rolling in the Deep #1
Genre: Horror, Fantasy
Pages: 256
Published: 
November 14th 2017 by Orbit
LGBTQAI+: a bisexual main & an autistic lesbian main
Other: two deaf characters

Seven years ago, the Atargatis set off on a voyage to the Mariana Trench to film a “mockumentary” bringing to life ancient sea creatures of legend. It was lost at sea with all hands. Some have called it a hoax; others have called it a maritime tragedy.

Now, a new crew has been assembled. But this time they’re not out to entertain. Some seek to validate their life’s work. Some seek the greatest hunt of all. Some seek the truth. But for the ambitious young scientist Victoria Stewart this is a voyage to uncover the fate of the sister she lost.

Whatever the truth may be, it will only be found below the waves. But the secrets of the deep come with a price.

5+ stars

Yes, I do know that post title is terrible, thank you.

Seanan McGuire (Mira Grant) keeps destroying my emotions by writing complicated human relationships. Also, I had a nightmare about killer mermaids while I was reading this.

First impression: I was conflicted about the very long intro. On the one hand, I liked getting to know these characters, and how they were diverse and different, and getting to know them definitely raised the stakes. On the other hand, at around 120 pages I just really wanted to get to the action already.

I liked that there were many POVs (including some unexpected ones), and that not all of the characters were likeable, but in their own POV they justified their actions even if others disagreed.

Despite being a scary book, this was still funny at a lot of points, with the sarcastic comments and cat metaphors I have learned to expect from this author.

Of course, like with most horror books, there are definitely some frustrating parts where you are shouting at the characters to stop being stupid and actually realise how much danger they are in. Still, there were some twists later on that surprised me and that I really liked.

I also liked how diverse the book was (a bisexual main, an autistic lesbian main, multiple deaf mains), although in a book where anyone can die at anytime that’s always a double-edged sword.

I admit that I don’t deal well with books where a lot of characters die (I am invested in most books BECAUSE of the characters, so if you remove them, you remove my main interest), and my interest strongly plummeted at one point when one of my favourites seemed to die. In this case, I was quite lucky because most of my favourites survived, and the deaths were mostly those that I didn’t really care for anyway.

Finally, one of my favourite parts was – well, the mermaids, really. I loved how their intelligence and culture was gradually shown as the scientist found out more, and man, I loved Jillian being so completely done with everyone else. Also, all the conflicting emotions from these people who loved and feared and respected the ocean.

Into the Drowning Deep has a prequel novella, Rolling in the Deep, which was limited edition and currently only the audiobook is available from what I could see. I listened to it and I really liked that one as well, but it was… very similar to the main book. We learned the same things in both of them, and I had pretty much the same likes and dislikes in both, which is why I’m not writing a separate review.

~ Alexa

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

Gender Queer: The Memoir Teen-Me Needed

Gender Queer: A MemoirTitle: Gender Queer: A Memoir
Author(s): Maia Kobabe
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction, Memoir, Graphic Novel
Pages: 240
Published: 
May 28th 2019 by Lion Forge
LGBTQAI+: memoir by a genderqueer bi/asexual author

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

In 2014, Maia Kobabe, who uses e/em/eir pronouns, thought that a comic of reading statistics would be the last autobiographical comic e would ever write. At the time, it was the only thing e felt comfortable with strangers knowing about em. Now, Gender Queer is here. Maia’s intensely cathartic autobiography charts eir journey of self-identity, which includes the mortification and confusion of adolescent crushes, grappling with how to come out to family and society, bonding with friends over erotic gay fanfiction, and facing the trauma and fundamental violation of pap smears. Started as a way to explain to eir family what it means to be nonbinary and asexual, Gender Queer is more than a personal story: it is a useful and touching guide on gender identity–what it means and how to think about it–for advocates, friends, and humans everywhere.

5 hundred stars

While reading this graphic novel, my most common thought was “holy shit”, usually paired with “that’s me!”. It was like the author reached into my brain to pluck out my thoughts, memories and experiences, and turned them into drawings. Only, of course, e was doing the same with eir own memories – which happened to be hauntingly similar to mine. I firmly believe that if I had read this book before I was 18, I would have found my identity much sooner.

120Gender Queer is a memoir that tells a story of a person growing up questioning both eir sexuality and gender. It addresses many issues that are described in the blurb, such as coming out to friends and family, feeling ignorant around your peers who seem to have more experience than you, relationships and being ready to be in them, listening to David Bowie, wanting to have life experiences as research for fanfiction, feelings about menstruation, having children, and much else.

Maia tells the story of eir childhood with beautiful illustrations, and honest even about the uncomfortable truths. Like most teens, Maia also used to be ignorant about some issues that e now knows better about, such as the dangers of using ace bandages. The only thing I would have appreciated more critical thinking on is the erotic gay shipping that is often used to fetishize gay men. There are several scenes where Maia and eir friends write fanfiction, including about real people, and mention several popular gay ships – and again, I don’t judge em and eir friends for these, but I still would have appreciated a couple of sentences about this shipping can be toxic as well as validating.

179

But really, what really struck me was how much I related to these experiences. Some scenes, like realising other girls shave their legs and I don’t, not being able to describe what haircut you want and then hating it, having a conversation with a mother about having children, wearing pants to graduation, and even playing a boy character in drama class brought up memories that happened to me, occasionally ones that I haven’t thought of or related to my gender journey.

Overall, Gender Queer is a beautifully written and drawn, honest account of a genderqueer bi/asexual person’s life. It’s special to me because I related to it so much, but I think anyone can enjoy it, and many queer people regardless of identity can find relatable moments in it. (There were also a lot of aro-relatable moments, although I’m not sure if the author identifies as aromantic as well or not.)

  • “It was everyone else being silly, not me.”
  • “This seed put out many leaves, but I didn’t have the language to identify the plant.”
  • “Friendship is NINE THOUSAND TIMES better than romance!”
  • “I’d be constantly resenting my kid for taking up all my time. I’m way too selfish for parenting.”
  • “I wish I didn’t fear that my identity is too political for a classroom.”

59

~ Alexa

Reviews

International Rivals to Lovers: Red, White & Royal Blue

Red, White & Royal BlueTitle: Red, White & Royal Blue
Author(s): Casey McQuiston
Series: 
Genre: New Adult, Contemporary Romance
Pages: 432
Published: 
May 14th 2019 by St. Martin’s Griffin
LGBTQAI+: bisexual & gay male leads; bi, gay, trans and pansexual side characters
Other representation: biracial Mexican/white lead, Latino side characters

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

A big-hearted romantic comedy in which First Son Alex falls in love with Prince Henry of Wales after an incident of international proportions forces them to pretend to be best friends…

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations.

The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. Alex is busy enough handling his mother’s bloodthirsty opponents and his own political ambitions without an uptight royal slowing him down. But beneath Henry’s Prince Charming veneer, there’s a soft-hearted eccentric with a dry sense of humor and more than one ghost haunting him.

As President Claremont kicks off her reelection bid, Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret relationship with Henry that could derail the campaign and upend two nations. And Henry throws everything into question for Alex, an impulsive, charming guy who thought he knew everything: What is worth the sacrifice? How do you do all the good you can do? And, most importantly, how will history remember you?

5 (thousand) stars

There was so much goodness in this book, I barely know where to start.

Red, White & Royal Blue is written from the perspective of Alex, the biracial son of the first female president of the United States. His parents are divorced, but his Mexican father is still a supportive presence in his life. Along with his older sister and their bisexual friend Nora, they form the White House Trio. And of course, there’s Prince Henry – grandson of the Queen of England, who has been Alex’s rival for years, and he’s all boring and white and not handsome or cute, not at all, not even a little bit.

Henry and Alex go from rivals to forced friends to real friends to secret lovers, separated by an ocean, as well as the expectations of their families and their entire countries. Through long-distance calls, pop culture references, quotes from love letters by historical figures and a painting of Alexander Hamilton, this romance is one history will remember.

Interwoven with the romance, there is also heavy criticism of British imperialism, corrupt and predatory politicans, racism and homophobia in history, the price of trying to keep a traditional image, and more. Henry and Alex are surrounded by families and friends who love their respective countries and wish to see them flourish, but without ignoring the bigotry in their past and present.

Also: give me more New Adult fiction with 20-something protagonists!

In short, this book is easily one of my favourite reads this year.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Play it Again: Long-Distance Romance Between Youtubers

Play It AgainTitle: Play It Again
Author(s): Aidan Wayne
Series: 
Genre: Contemporary Romance
Pages: 288
Published: 
April 22nd 2019 by Carina Press
LGBTQAI+: M/M relationship between a blind, Jewish bisexual guy, and a homoromantic asexual guy with anxiety. (Aro)ace side character.

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

When Seattle-based blind YouTuber Dovid Rosenstein finds Sam Doyle’s Let’s Play channel, playitagainsam, he’s instantly captivated by the Irish gamer. Everything about Sam is adorable, from his accent to his personality, and Dovid can’t get enough of his content.

Dovid’s glowing shout-out on Don’t Look Now, his own successful channel, sends Sam’s subscriber numbers skyrocketing overnight. He has more comments than he can read. And while the sudden surge in popularity is anxiety inducing, Sam decides it’s only right to dedicate his next episode to Dovid…which soon leads to a heart-pounding exchange of DMs.

They may have never met in person, but Dovid’s never felt this close to anyone before. What they have feels worth exploring—no matter the distance. But is it possible to already be in love with someone who’s half a world away?

One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise: all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

3.5 stars

Play It Again is a M/M romance by a nonbinary author that involves YouTubers and social media, and one of the main characters is blind – at least that was how much I found out based on the blurb and the author’s bio. As the story went on, I was very happy to find out that Dovid and Rachel are Jewish, along with Rachel being (aro)ace and Sam being ace. (Rachel is only called sex-repulsed ace in the book as far as I remember, but it’s implied she’s not interested in romance either.)

Overall, Play It Again is a sweet, low-conflict romance that deals with internet fame, as well as living while disabled, or having emotionally abusive parents. If you are looking for a comforting read and aren’t too bothered by the toxic parents, this could be a good pick. I also loved how Dovid and Rachel review restaurants and venues based on accessibility as well as their food, taking into consideration not only blind people, but wheelchair users as well. Dovid also mentions a wheelchair user friend at one point, although disappointingly she doesn’t actually appear.

I admit that I didn’t always enjoy this book, although you might have guessed this from the fact that I didn’t give it 5 stars. There were some scenes that gave me intense second hand embarrassment, and sometimes the long discussions about how to handle internet fame and YouTubing were just boring to me. I also admit I have no experience with similar matters, but Sam becoming a sensation and actually getting PAID enough to be able to leave his job so fast felt unrealistic to me. I know realism isn’t the most important, but it was still a little frustrating.

Dovid and Sam are also in a long-distance relationship, with all the troubles that brings – including that most of their scenes aren’t physically together, but through phone or chat conversations. There is a lot of discussion of consent and boundaries, which I really appreciated.

I also couldn’t figure out how old the characters are, but I’m guessing early twenties, which would actually put this as New Adult? It’s definitely not YA, although it doesn’t have explicit scenes.

~ Alexa

Reviews

Once & Future: King Arthur in Space and Also Queer

Once & Future (Once & Future, #1) Title: Once & Future
Author(s): Amy Rose Capetta & Cori McCarthy
Series: Once & Future #1
Genre: Young Adult, Science Fiction, Retelling
Pages: 368
Published:
March 26th 2019
LGBTQAI+: main F/F relationship, main M/M relationship, nonbinary side character, ace side character, and more. trans/nonbinary authors.

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure.

4 stars

“I, um, come from a society with a history of gender assumptions based on physical markers, aesthetics, et cetera.”
“Ew,” Ari said.
“That’s wicked sad,” Kay added.
Merlin, at least, looked deeply ashamed. “You have no idea.”

I… don’t know what happened to me halfway through this book.

It started out brilliant, and sucked me in almost immediately. An adopted queer teenage girl with Arabic background, a gay wizard who ages backwards and uses songs to do magic, both of them being in same gender relationships, a nonbinary side character, an ace side character, same-gender adoptive parents, and a wonderfully diverse cast in terms of both race and sexuality. A fresh, beautiful take on Arthurian myths that somehow mixes both the past and the future, reenacting the myths of old, but in space. Also, the big bad tyrannical empire this time is not actually a government, but a corporation, and if that isn’t relevant then I don’t know what is.

I absolutely loved Merlin and his memories of all the Arthurs, the feeling that this is really an unending cycle, that they are all so different and yet still have the same soul, the same story, the same end.

So why did the second half leave me uninterested and kind of disenchanted? I really have no idea, but somewhere around the one-year timeskip I felt myself losing interest and becoming numb to the twists.

It might have had to do something with the character deaths (not telling you who, obviously, but damn I didn’t like that), or the fact that these apparent teenagers are going around having sex, getting married, and having literal babies. Not that those things don’t happen to teenagers, but it’s far from the norm, and just in general, this felt like it should have been a New Adult novel. We already have so few of those, so the missed opportunity made me kind of bitter.

I also feel like there might have been a symbolic reason behind Ari, Val, Lam and Kay all having names with three letters, but having the last three be so similar was indeed kind of annoying. I wondered why Percival couldn’t have been Percy or Perce or something instead. This is just a minor pet peeve, but still.

I am both scared and intrigued by the hints we have for the sequel (you, because you’ve never imagined it, and you because you believed you’d escaped it), and duologies are my favourite format that are also rarer than I like, so I’m still excited about next year.

NOTES:
– This should definitely have a content warning for genocide of a non-white people.
– The ace side character is only referred to as ace, but the way she describes it implies she’s supposed to be aro as well.
– There seem to be three recognised nonbinary genders in this world, referred to as “fluid”, “set” and “non”. This was a little strange, but not necessarily bad.

~ Alexa

Reviews

BLOG TOUR: Wicked Saints – Dark Fantasy with Magic, Grudging Allies and a Dangerous Romance

Wicked Saints (Something Dark and Holy, #1)Title: Wicked Saints
Author(s): Emily A. Duncan
Series: Something Dark and Holy #1
Genre: Dark Fantasy, Young Adult, Gothic
Pages: 400
Published: 
April 2nd, 2019 by Wednesday Books
LGBTQAI+: lesbian side character

A girl who can speak to gods must save her people without destroying herself.

A prince in danger must decide who to trust.

A boy with a monstrous secret waits in the wings.

Together, they must assassinate the king and stop the war.

In a centuries-long war where beauty and brutality meet, their three paths entwine in a shadowy world of spilled blood and mysterious saints, where a forbidden romance threatens to tip the scales between dark and light. Wicked Saints is the thrilling start to Emily A. Duncan’s devastatingly Gothic Something Dark and Holy trilogy.

WickedSaints_BlogTourBanner_BEFORE 4.2

5 stars

You know what I love? People who are supposed to be enemies grudgingly working together, and growing to like each other no matter how hard they fight it.  Also, an examination of what it means to be a monster, and how human monsters can be. So, really, it’s no surprise that I ended up adoring Wicked Saints.

The series title is Something Dark and Holy, and I think that describes the feeling of this book perfectly. It is deliciously dark, and yet I didn’t feel like it had any of the unnecessary violence that repulses me in many dark fantasy books. It is also focuses heavily on gods, saints, heretics and how whether something is one or the other really depends on your point of view.

The three main characters in Wicked Saints (two of them with their own POV in this book, unless we count the epilogue) are all powerful, dangerous, and possibly as likely to destroy the world as to save it.  And yet, they are also broken, charming, awkward, in love, and so many other human words. They are all enemies, and yet they all have the same goal, or at least a goal similar enough to force them to work together. Also, they all want to save their own respective countries, which doesn’t always seem possible without destroying the other.

I loved the worldbuilding in this book, but what really pulled me in and kept me going was my deep attachment to the three main characters. Nadya, Serefin and Malachiasz are all complex characters whose loyalties are tested in this book, and whose fates seem to be entwined despite their protests.

After that ending, I am a little scared what the sequel will bring, but I am definitely curious.

Emily A. DuncanEMILY A. DUNCAN works as a youth services librarian. She received a Master’s degree in library science from Kent State University, which mostly taught her how to find obscure Slavic folklore texts through interlibrary loan systems. When not reading or writing, she enjoys playing copious amounts of video games and dungeons and dragons. Wicked Saints is her first book. She lives in Ohio.

Website: https://eaduncan.com/
Twitter: @glitzandshadows
Instagram: @glitzandshadows
Tumblr: http://glitzandshadows.tumblr.com/

~ Alexa

Reviews

She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters

She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary ResistersTitle: She/He/They/Me: For the Sisters, Misters, and Binary Resisters
Author(s): Robyn Ryle
Series: 
Genre: Nonfiction
Pages: 400
Published: 
March 5th 2019 by Sourcebooks

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

If you’ve ever questioned the logic of basing an entire identity around what you have between your legs, it’s time to embark on a daring escape outside of the binary box…

Open your eyes to what it means to be a boy or a girl — and above and beyond! Within these pages, you get to choose which path to forge. Explore over one hundred different scenarios that embrace nearly every definition across the world, over history, and in the ever-widening realms of our imagination! What if your journey leads you into a world with several genders, or simply one? Do you live in a matriarchal society, or as a sworn virgin in the Balkans? How does gender (or the lack thereof) change the way we approach sex and love, life or death?

Jump headfirst into this refreshingly creative exploration of the ways gender colors every shade and shape of our world. Above all, it’s more important than ever for us to celebrate the fact that there are infinite gender paths — and each of them is beautiful.

3 stars

Reading this book was… exhausting. I did two full paths, as well as several detours where I checked out another path, and many dead-ends. In the end, I’m sure there are still chapters I haven’t read (I might return to them later), but I feel like I have a good enough idea to write a review.

Here’s the short version: as an information resource, this book is pretty good. As a choose-your-own-adventure book that emphasises nonbinary people on the cover, it fails terribly.

1) Let’s talk about the information first. Most of this book is about binary gender roles in Western culture, with a US focus. It addresses race, class, and has some chapters on transgender healthcare, as well as a few chapters on other countries, and explanation of gender roles in some indigenous cultures. It also deals with some statistics, and gave information about gender in Olympic sports that was really interesting to me. Obviously, I can’t speak for the accuracy of all this information, but I appreciated the intersectionality, and the focus on issues that I didn’t even think of.

So, why does this book absolutely fail to deliver what the cover and blurb seemed to promise?

2a) A quick word about the formatting. I read an e-ARC that had links to every chapter in the contents, but at the end of chapters (where it gives you the choices and tells you which chapter to go next) there are no links. There are also no page numbers, which (especially in a paperback copy) would have been much more useful in my opinion than chapter numbers. This book required a lot of jumping around, as all choose-your-adventure books do, but the actual activity of jumping around was so inconvenient that after my second read-through it just got frustrating.

2b) And now let me talk about my personal experience trying to read this book as it was intended, as a nonbinary person.

On my first read, I picked that my assigned gender didn’t match the gender I felt I was. So far, so good. Next question is whether your parents accept your gender identity or not. I picked no, so I was taken to a chapter that forced me into “pretending to be a cis person for now”. And then… the gender questioning thing never came up again. I actually knew about this because another reviewer pointed it out, but it was still a really dysphoric experience, and a pretty big oversight. There could have been a chapter there about transitioning as an adult, or leaving your parents, or ANYTHING. But no, I guess if your parents don’t accept your gender then you’re out of luck forever.

On my second read, I picked that my parents accept my gender identity. This allowed me some options, like choose to be a transgender man, a transgender woman, nonbinary, or agender. (Yes, nonbinary and agender are separate.) I picked the nonbinary option, and there was about… one chapter about nonbinary experiences. Then at the marriage part, the route merged with the previous path, and I was forced into a binary of picking between being a man or a woman.

Other things I noticed:

1) If you pick the asexual option, you can be either alloromantic or aromantic, but if you pick to be allosexual, there is no mention of aromanticism.

2) I mentioned this above, but I’d just like to emphasize that for a book that emphasises nonbinary people on the cover, all the medical, sports, work and other information is only for men and women. I understand that Western society is binarist, but at the very least it could have been phrased as “you are perceived as a woman” or something similar, as opposed to “you ARE a woman”. There are also very few chapters specifically about nonbinary experiences in non-indigenous cultures.

3) There are several chapters where man vs trans man and woman vs trans woman are used, as opposed to cis man vs trans man or cis woman vs trans woman. There is also a chapter where the sentence “they have lived their lives as normal women” (as opposed to intersex) is used.

In summary, the information in this book focuses on a lot of issues and includes a variety of experiences – however, it heavily erases nonbinary people in non-indigenous cultures, and treats cisgender people as the norm, which was really disappointing after that cover.

~ Alexa