Review: The Dark Beneath the Ice – Paranormal Black Swan (Sort of)

The Dark Beneath the Ice

Title: The Dark Beneath the Ice
Author: Amelinda Bèrubè
Publisher: Sourcebooks Fire
Release Date: August 7th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s):
YA Paranormal, Mental Health, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (hardcover)
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

 

Marianne’s life is turning upside down. It all started when she decided to quit dancing, and now it’s come to a boil, with her parents divorced and her mother voluntarily hospitalized. To make matters worse, strange things are happening around her. She’s doing things that she doesn’t remember doing and having recurrent nightmares of herself drowning. Now she needs to figure out what it is that’s haunting her and put an end to it before it gets her first.

This was a bit of a mixed bag for me. The story has been called a paranormal Black Swan and I do kind of understand the comparison–both main characters are dancers who start doubting their sanity. But whereas the movie has a frenetic obsessive feel, The Dark Beneath the Ice has a more lonely, laid-back quality to it. It’s a story about Marianne’s insecurities, and other mental health issues, more so than dancing and the pursuit of perfection.

The author does a great job portraying all the little demons that crowd our minds–the voices that tell us we’re not talented enough, interesting enough, good enough. You get scenes that range from awkward and secondhand embarrassment-inducing (Is there an award for the most realistically awkward phone conversations? Because this book has them in spades) to wonderfully poignant ones that tug at your heartstrings. And there are some that really hit close to home–like the “Oh god, does this person really want to be my friend or are they just taking pity on me? It has to be the latter, no one likes me” train of thought that Marianne often falls prey to. Her struggles may not be as overtly dark as Nina’s in The Black Swan, but they’re common ones that many people face and Bèrubè shows them in such a heartfelt way.

“Sometimes I think I’m just not a very good person. You know? Sometimes it’s like any minute someone’s going to read my mind and find out how awful I am inside. Do you ever worry about that?”

All the time, I didn’t say. I’ve never stopped.

We also get a slow-burn romantic subplot between the MC and a girl named Rhiannon (“Ron”), which I thought was very sweet. It’s your “Goth girl with a I’m-tough-shit-but-pry-me-open-and-you’ll-find-a-soft-center attitude gets together with a shy, introverted girl” trope, and I ate it up like a sundae.

My biggest problem with the story was, surprisingly, the paranormal aspect. I went in expecting chills and scares and didn’t find much of either. And I think a large part of that was due to the sheer number of the “ghost” scenes. The first 1/4 of the book is saturated with these hazy hallucinatory sequences that I found myself getting bored of after a while. There were moments here and there where I thought, “Okay that’s nicely creepy” but, for the most part, I just couldn’t get invested in the ghostly happenings.

To sum up: I loved seeing the story weave together mental health elements with the speculative elements; plot-wise, I was left feeling somewhat disappointed.

Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

Review: In the Present Tense – Great Scott, You’re a Time Traveller, Miles!

In the Present Tense

Title: In the Present Tense
Author: Carrie Pack
Publisher: Interlude Press
Release Date: May 19th, 2016
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Sci-Fi, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 336 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 6.5/10

 

 

 

 

 

Imagine waking up one morning to find yourself 8 years in the future and in bed, not with your teenage boyfriend, but your twenty-something wife. Imagine your wife then explaining that you possess the ability to time travel and that you and your boyfriend–the love of your life–broke up soon after high school. Oh, and you’re also bisexual.

…Surprise, honey!

Miles Lawson has a condition that allows him to time travel, albeit in an erratic, uncontrollable fashion. Present day Miles is determined to find a permanent cure for his “ailment” and get back to living his current life, but teenage Miles is equally determined to put a wrench into his plans and reconnect with his ex-boyfriend (who is now engaged to someone else).

The characters reference Back to the Future quite a bit, but the story bears far more resemblance to “The Constant” episode of LOST, as Miles’ mind flits back and forth across time while his body remains in place.  So we get POVs from 25 year-old Miles, teenage Miles inhabiting the body of 25 year-old Miles, and future Miles in the body of present Miles. While it’s a little confusing in the beginning, it won’t take long for you get settled and once you do, it’s quite the entertaining ride. There’s a reason why “The Constant” is one of my favourite episodes in LOST and this book’s take on time travel (“temporal shifts” as it calls it) scratched an itch I’ve had since I last watched the show.

I also want to give props to the author for the sheer amount of diversity found among the characters. We get everything from a bisexual biracial protagonist, a Latina wife, a gay Asian man, to a lesbian teenager with schizophrenia. It’s not every day that I come across a queer sci-fi story with a Korean romantic interest and I may hissed “YES!” when I found out (to the consternation of the other commuters on my train).

The biggest problem I had was with the characters. These characters are diagnosed with what I call the “puppet syndrome”– being made to do and say things solely for the purpose of moving the plot in one specific direction, even if it means being contorted into strange and nonsensical shapes.

Okay, but isn’t that what every story does? All characters are essentially puppets manipulated by the writer. Well yes, but the readers shouldn’t be thinking that. For the duration of the story, we should be sold on the idea that this puppet is indeed a real boy, as opposed to constantly thinking, “These characters are like Barbie dolls awkwardly knocking against each other.”

And there’s some serious Barbie knockage going on in this story:

(Some spoilers ahead. And these are not actual quotes from the book.)

Exhibit A:

Miles: Hey, mom and dad, did anything weird ever happen to me as a kid?

Parents: Well, there was that time you stayed at your uncle’s place and his time travel research colleagues took you into their lab while you were sleeping and did all sorts of experiments on you.”

Miles: …Excuse me?

Exhibit B:

Ana (Miles’s wife): I’m so devastated by the fact that my husband is in a mental facility, even though I encouraged him to sign himself in.

(less than a week later)

Ana: Oh, Miles’s boss, kiss my sorrows away!

Exhibit C:

Adam: Miles, I have a fiancé and you have a wife. We should not be kissing!

(literally 3 pages later)

Adam: I know I haven’t seen you in 8 years but I love you more than I would ever love my fiancé. We’re like, destined, you and I.

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The second one is what gets me that most. Miles and Ana supposedly have had a happy marriage thus far, so I feel like the only reason for the latter to be cheating is to justify Miles and Adam getting back together.

So in the end, I never really got a good sense of any of these characters–not so much because they’re shallow, but because they swing back and forth from one action to another completely contradictory one with the speed of a weather vane in the middle of a hurricane.

All in all, I loved the time travel aspect and the themes presented, but the characters had me groaning in frustration to throwing my hands up crying, “Why are you doing this?”

Review: Record of a Spaceborn Few (Wayfarers 3) – A Cozy Space Soap Opera

Record of a Spaceborn Few

Title: Record of a Spaceborn Few
Author: Becky Chambers
Publisher: Harper Voyager
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s) and Subject(s): Space Opera, Aliens, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

 

 

Becky Chambers’ third entry in her highly-acclaimed Wayfarers series opens with a catastrophic accident and a mass funeral. Thousands of people, including our main characters, come together in the wake of this tragedy to weep for those they’ve never even met. And this prologue really kind of sets the tone for the rest of the story. Celebration of life in the midst of death. A community coming together for support and healing.

I’ve seen the Wayfarers books compared with Mass Effect and Firefly, two very popular space opera franchises. And while I can see a few similarities in this book–humans tentatively coexisting with aliens, spaceships serving as homes–Spaceborn Few doesn’t have the sprawling, galactic feel of Mass Effect or Firefly. What it does excel at is homing in on all the minutiae of a person’s everyday life and blowing them up to dramatic proportions. In that respect, it reminded a lot of NBC’s drama series This is Us, complete with all the warm and fuzzy family dramas. These aren’t galaxy-spanning conflicts but microconflicts that don’t extend beyond one person, one family, but are just as meaningful, if not more.

We follow the lives of five characters who reside in the Exodus Fleet (either temporarily or permanently), which is a series of ships that set out from Earth generations ago in an attempt to carve out a new, better chapter for humanity.

Tessa is a mother of two and works at the cargo bay where she keeps track of the goods coming in and out of the Fleet. Her perspective was my favourite, as her interactions with her children, Aya and Ky, are so endearing and nauseating sweet (in a good way). 

Isabel is the oldest character of the group (she has grandchildren!). She’s an archivist who’s playing guide to an alien researcher who has come to visit the Fleet for the first time. I loved their little debates on the differences between human social nuances and alien ones. They serve as a celebration of the best of human culture but also an embracing of the “other.”

Sawyer is in his early twenties and unlike the other characters, he’s a newcomer to the Fleet. He’s come here to trace his family’s roots back to the place where it all really began (post-Earth) and to experience all that the Exodan culture has to offer. And boy, is he ever excited.

Eyas is a caretaker, and her job is to prepare dead bodies and bury them as fertilizer throughout the Fleet’s gardens. It’s a job that she loves but it does make for a lonely life, as many people are confused and repulsed by the idea of being intimate with someone who literally handles death on a daily basis. With Eyas’ POV we also get positive explorations of sex work, which I wholly loved and appreciated.

Kip is a teenage boy and the youngest of the cast. At sixteen he’s already tired of life on the Fleet and wants out badly (cue the Beauty and the Beast lyrics: “I want so much more than they’ve got planned”). Trouble is, he doesn’t know what he wants to do with his life once he graduates.

There isn’t much of a plot. And I know some people will physically recoil at the very idea, but let me tell you, I’ve never been more entertained by a story with such a heavy focus on gardening, cooking, corpse-preparing, long distance phone-calling, and other such mundane activities. It’s as domestic as it gets and there’s comfort to be found in that.

Most of all, though, the story made me feel good. About humans. About being a human. About sexuality, relationships, and all the uncertainties that life likes to throw at our feet. Record of a Spaceborn Few is my first glimpse into Becky Chambers’ writing and it sure won’t be the last.

 

Copy provided by the publisher via Edelweiss in exchange for an honest review

Review: Annex (The Violet Wars 1) – Kids VS Aliens

Annex

Author: Rich Larson
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: July 24th, 2018
Genre(s) and Themes: Sci-Fi, LGBTQIAP+
Page Count: 368 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 7.0/10

 

 

 
Annex bucks my recent trend of reading books that have strong beginnings and lackluster endings, because I struggled hard with the beginning of this one. The book presents a city that’s been overrun by aliens. The adults have been captured and turned into non-violent, still-breathing zombies, and the children are being rounded up and experimented on. In the midst of this chaos, we follow the lives of a surviving group of children known as the “Lost Boys” who are led by a teen named Wyatt.

I came into the book expecting a sprawling alien invasion epic set on Earth a la Independence Day, except starring children. The reality, however, was rather different. Let’s count the ways, shall we?

  1. The story gives you zero introduction to the invasion situation.

From the beginning, I felt like I was thrown into the middle of a story that was already ongoing and my brain was a whirlwind of questions. Who are these aliens? What have they done with the adults? Is the whole world completely destroyed? Why are they experimenting on children? The book just gives you a coy wink and a smile in lieu of answers, and this drove me crazy.

2. The first half of the book is more like a Peter Pan/Lord of the Flies mashup against an alien invasion backdrop. 

I don’t know why it took me nearly half the book to figure this out considering the kids literally call themselves the “Lost Boys.” There’s a lot of focus on the dynamics within this little makeshift family, especially between Wyatt and the two main characters, and much of the beginning is just a recounting of their daily lives as they dodge and fight aliens. The scope is very narrow– because these children know very little about the aliens, we know very little about the aliens.

Once I’d finally made peace with these two points, things started to get a lot more enjoyable. And there is a lot to enjoy in this story. Lawson does action scenes very well-dynamic and exciting–and his descriptions of alien-related creations are fiendishly creepy and imaginative. I especially loved the “othermothers”–creatures made by the aliens to resemble the kids’ mothers, if their mothers had metal insect legs. They gave me heavy Bioshock vibes–kind of like a mix of splicers and Big Sisters.

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The characters are a colourful bunch. We have Bo, an eleven-year old boy who recently escaped from the warehouse where the aliens are performing experiments on kids. Unfortunately, he was my least favourite of the cast as I found him lacking in personality and far, far too old for his age. Then there’s Violet, a fifteen year-old trans girl who’s grappling with the fact that she’s free to be whoever she wants for the first time in her life but still mourning the loss of her parents. Her desire for acceptance and love is is something you can’t not empathize with, and her sassy attitude quickly won me over. There’s also Wyatt, leader of the Lost Boys and a Machiavellian rendition of Peter Pan. He’s charming, manipulative, despicable, campy–sometimes all at once–and wholly entertaining. Larson’s eye for snappy dialogue really brings him to life.

Then around the halfway mark, we meet Gloom the saboteur alien, who is hands-down the best character in the book and one of the more interesting side characters I’ve had the pleasure of meeting this year. Picture slender man in a bowler hat with a facial expression that just looks off. Picture slender man in a bowler hat with the ability to shapeshift. Picture a shape-shifting slender man in a bowler hat with an unintentionally dry sense of humour and an overall endearing personality. That’s Gloom in a nutshell. Is he as awesome as he sounds? You bet. He’s a precious blend of creepy and lovable and he steals pretty much every scene that he’s in.

All in all, Annex turned out to be a fun, fast-paced story that’s very contained and at times claustrophobic. It just took me some time to get settled into it.

~

Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for an honest review

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Royalty | 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 3]

Diversity-Spotlight-Thursday-Banner

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

Today we’re donning all the crowns, the jewels, the unwieldy layers of fabric, and exploring some diverse books that feature royalty! This was a hard one, but it was either royalty or diverse pilots (you’ll see why in the second half of the post).

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The Tiger’s Daughter by K. Arsenault Rivera

Captive Prince was the first “royal” book that popped to mind, but that one has issues regarding sexual violence, so instead I’m picking the next diverse yet controversial book that immediately popped to mind (because I hate making things easy for myself, apparently), which is The Tiger’s Daughter. There are those who absolutely hated the representation of Asian culture in this book (Japan and Mongolia in particular), others who loved it, and others who didn’t much care. It’s a matter of inspiration vs. appropriation, and while I do think the worldbuilding is lazy in some respects, I don’t believe it portrays East Asian countries in a disrespectful or malicious manner.

So with that immediate digression…

The Tiger’s Daughter is an epistolary novel that follows the lives of Shefali, a child of the nomadic Qorin tribe, and Shizuka, the future empress of Hokkaro–two young girls whose fates were entwined from birth. The prose is breathtaking and the romance between the two characters is beautifully drawn out. The second book is coming out this October and I’m quite eager to get my hands on it.

A-book-on-my-tbrThe Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

The Prince and the Dressmaker is a standalone graphic novel that stars a prince who loves wearing dresses and his best friend who loves making those dresses. It seems like a sweet story reminiscent of the Princess Jellyfish manga series, and it’s been getting heaps of praises, so I very much look forward to checking it out.

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Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

 
In this richly developed fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most persecuted class of people in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards for an unknown fate still haunts her. Now, the guards are back and this time it’s Lei they’re after — the girl with the golden eyes whose rumored beauty has piqued the king’s interest.
Over weeks of training in the opulent but oppressive palace, Lei and eight other girls learns the skills and charm that befit a king’s consort. There, she does the unthinkable — she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens her world’s entire way of life. Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

~
This book doesn’t have a royal protagonist, but it’s set in a royal environment and has a king as a major character, so I figure it’s close enough. The premise reminds me a little of Shannon Hale’s Princess Academy (except more queer and Asian), and I find the “forbidden romance” aspect rather intriguing.

Releases November 6th, 2018

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This is Day 3 of the 3 Days, 3 Quotes, for which I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads!

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

For this last day, I’d like to feature a quote from my favourite littlest prince of all time:

Little-Prince-quote

The Little Prince by Antoine de Saint-Exupéry is my favourite children’s book and one of my favourite books of all time. It’s one of those stories that sinks its claws into you and refuses to let go, becoming more and more meaningful as you grow older.

It also comes with a rather romantic and tragic backstory (or afterstory, rather). The Little Prince opens up with an aviator crashed on a desert, and Saint-Exupéry himself just also happened to be a pilot (he’d inserted his experience with his own near-fatal crash into the story). He’d flew with the Allies during World War 2, until one day, during one mission, he vanished without a trace.

A partial wreckage of his plane has since been found, but I like to believe that he flew himself all the way to Asteroid B-612 to be with the Little Prince. I hope that wherever he is, he managed to find some measure of peace and comfort as I found in his story.

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Today I tag: You! Everyone! If you wish to be tagged, consider yourself tagged!

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Pirates Ahoy!| 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 2]

Diversity-Spotlight-Thursday-Banner

Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks. Each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

And this week’s topic is pirates! ☠️

Diversity-Thursday---Pirates

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Red Seas Under Red Skies by Scott Lynch

The sequel to Scott Lynch’s incredibly addictive, high-octane fantasy heist debut, Red Seas Under Red Skies follows the misadventures of our beloved conmen Lock Lamora and Jean Tannen, as they end up butting heads with pirates. The captain of the pirates in question is a middle-aged black woman who also happens to be a mother, which is one of the most badass things ever. While it’s got more structural issues than the first, the entertainment value is still through the roof and I find myself rereading it time and time again.

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The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

I’ve been meaning to read this for a while now, because a plot that revolves around a monster-raising girl getting kidnapped by a pirate queen sounds fun, if a little romance novel-esque. I’ve heard great and not-so-great things about it, so I’m looking forward to finding out what the fuss is for myself.

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Compass Rose by Anna Burke

In the year 2513, the only thing higher than the seas is what’s at stake for those who sail them.
Rose was born facing due north, with an inherent perception of cardinal points flowing through her veins. Her uncanny sense of direction earns her a coveted place among the Archipelago Fleet elite, but it also attracts the attention of Admiral Comita, who sends her on a secret mission deep into pirate territory. Accompanied by a ragtag crew of mercenaries and under the command of Miranda, a captain as bloodthirsty as she is alluring, Rose discovers the hard way that even the best sense of direction won’t be enough to keep her alive if she can’t learn to navigate something far more dangerous than the turbulent seas. Aboard the mercenary ship, Man o’ War, Rose learns quickly that trusting the wrong person can get you killed―and Miranda’s crew have no intention of making things easy for her―especially Miranda’s trusted first mate, Orca, who is as stubborn as she is brutal.

Yet another book where the protagonist falls for a ruthless captain! I first saw it featured on one of Anna’s posts, and the combination of the words “2513” and “seas” and “mercenary” made me positively light-headed with excitement. Because if there’s one thing I love more than maritime mercenaries and pirates, it’s futuristic maritime mercenaries and pirates.

Releases July 10th

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For the second part of the post, we have Day 2 of 3 Days, 3 Quotes, for which I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads.

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

“Uh, Kathy, it says right there in the rules that you have to post the quotes consecutively. You haven’t posted one in fi–”

Now onto today’s quote! (From a book that also features pirates!)

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I can’t not do a quotes tag without including one from my favourite author of all time. And this one is rather timely considering how much of an unabashed dumpster fire the world is right now. One of the central themes of Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books is how the small actions of ordinary people can snowball into extraordinary, world-shaking events. And this quote is a loud call for such action. It’s disconcertingly easy to resign to weariness and think, “I can’t change anything,” but these books remind me that every step made, however small or shaky, is a step forward. And those steps add up to a lot.

(And I most definitely did not pick pirates as this week’s Diversity Thursday theme just so I could use this quote. Not at all.)

Today I tag:
– Justine from Milkz Bookshelf
– Alexia from The Bookworm Daydreamer
– Bibi from Bibi’s Book Blog

Top 5 Wednesday – LGBTQ+ Books (Sans Cis M/M Relationships)

“Top 5 Wednesday” is a weekly meme currently hosted on Goodreads by Sam of Thoughts on Tomes, where you list your top 5 for the week’s chosen topic. This week’s theme is: LGBTQ+ Books That Don’t Feature Cis M/M Relationships.

If this week’s prompt seems rather specific, here’s Sam’s reasoning:

This may seem oddly specific, but in honor of Pride being this month, I wanted to have a topic to celebrate LGBTQ+ books. But, the book community tends to, when given the chance, lift up cis m/m pairings the most. And while those books are still important and valued (we’ve even had topics covering m/m relationships earlier this year, which featured many cis m/m pairings), I wanted to shine the spotlight on some of those lesser known, recognized, and celebrated books.

I love that this gives us a chance to shine a spotlight on some of the other areas of the queer rainbow. Thanks, Sam!

1. Pantomime (Micah Grey 1) by Laura Lam

Pantomime

The first in Lam’s Micah Grey series is a fantasy story set around a travelling circus, which in itself is fun and interesting, but it also stars an intersex protagonist, which I’d never before encountered (in genre fiction or otherwise). Micah is a wonderfully likeable protagonist and his gender struggles are explored in a respectful, heartfelt manner. Plus I kind of liked the (sort-of) love triangle that he ends up in with two of the other circus members, which is a rare occurrence for me.

2. Peter Darling by Austin Chant

Peter Darling
With Peter Darling, Austin Chant creates a brilliantly original retelling of the classic tale. Peter in this story is trans and he finds himself back in Neverland to reclaim the Lost Boys and renew his old feud with Captain Hook. It’s a short but sweet story that touches on gender identity and the enemies-to-lovers trope.

3. The Thousand Names (Shadow Campaigns 1) by Django Wexler

the thousand names

I’ve said it before, but this entire series should be the benchmark for mainstream adult epic fantasy when it comes to LGBTQIAP+ representation. Some authors out there are patting themselves on the back for writing in a single gay character (out of a dozen) who appears in a total of maybe three scenes, and meanwhile Django here has amassed a total of (at least) nine queer side characters, plus one lesbian protagonist, by the end of the book 5. So if you’ve never heard the phrase “flintlock fantasy” before and are now curious to try it, I recommend you start with The Thousand Names. It’s got addictive military action, political intrigue, and interesting character relationships.

4. Borderline (The Arcadia Project 1) by Mishell Baker

Borderline

Borderline is the first in an urban fantasy series that stars a disabled bisexual protagonist with bipolar disorder. In another writer’s hands, this might have been a complete disaster. But Mishell Baker writes Millie Roper with startling complexity–funny, not always easy to like, and fucks up a ton, but always, always trying to move forward. The first book also mashes your typical fae lore with Hollywood and the result is incredibly entertaining.

5. Curved Horizon (The Camellia Clock Cycle 2) by Taylor Brooke

Curved Horizon

This one might be considered cheating because I’m reading through it right now and still have about 15% left to go, but it’s impressing the hell out of me, so I want to take this chance to showcase it. The Camelia Clock Cycle books are set in a world where scientists have discovered a way to calculate the exact moment that you meet your soulmate. Book 2 follows Daisy and Chelsea (former is Asian and demi, the latter is bi), who were secondary characters from the first book, as they navigate through trauma, mental health, and the complexities of love and friendship. Brooke does such an exquisite job exploring these characters and their demons to the fullest; there’s angst and heartbreak, but also moments where the characters just talk and try to figure things out. It combines the messiness of real life with the sweet optimism of romance novels, and I’m loving every bit of it.

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Have you read any of the books on this list? And shower me with your queer book recommendations!

 

 

Review: Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe – Hilarious and Life-Affirming

Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe


Title:
Neanderthal Opens the Door to the Universe
Author: Preston Norton
Publisher: Disney-Hyperion
Release Date: June 5th, 2018
Genre(s): Young Adult, Contemporary, Speculative
Page Count: 416 (hardback)
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10

 

Life is more than just existing. And it’s more than just a door with death and nothingness on the other side. Life is a series of doors. Every moment, every decision, is a door. And by opening them and stepping into the unknown, we are expanding and illuminating a world that we never knew existed. But if we never open those doors? If we stay put? We’ll be living in a world of walls.

Don’t you want to know what’s on the other side?

This book is a 400-page love letter to life. It’s like a rib-crushing hug that says, “I believe in you. Whatever you’re going through now, I believe you can push through it and come out on the other side stronger.” Ridiculous, witty, heartwarming, and full of wisdom dressed up in laugh-out-loud–sometimes over-the-top– humour, Preston Norton has written an indelible story of friendship, love, and what it means to live.

Cliff Hubbard is going through the worst year of his 16-year old life. On top of dealing with highschool bullying (he’s nicknamed “Neanderthal” for being 6’6 and 250 pounds), he has to face ongoing abuse from his father and the never-ending grief of losing his brother to suicide a year ago. Then one day, his arch-nemesis Aaron Zimmerson approaches him after a near-death experience and claims that he has met God (who inexplicably sounds like Morgan Freeman) and that God has given him a To-Do List of sorts. One that would make Happy Valley High a much better place. And guess whose help he needs?

First and foremost, the prose is absolute perfection. Humour, the kind that has you devolving into helpless laughter, is incredibly hard to nail. What’s even harder is to combine it with smart, no-nonsense wit. And what’s even harder is to transition from that humour into serious poignancy within a matter of a few sentences without it being jarring. And Norton nails that. There are so many moments that had me giggling to misty-eyed in a matter of seconds. Cliff’s narration finds the right balance of sarcasm and self-deprecation, and the metaphors and imagery he uses are inventive and so, so on-point.

“So…you don’t like the List.”

“I feel like the stupidity of the whole thing is burning a hole in my cerebral cortex. I’m trying to figure out which part is the dumbest, but the levels of stupidity for each point are so astronomical, I wonder if two of ideas bumped together, the universe might implode in a reverse Big Bang, and life as we know it would vacuum into a supermassive black hole and disappear from existence.”

The book also uses pop culture references in a way that doesn’t make me cringe, which is kind of a rarity. I’m not sure why YA contemporary writers have the idea that teenagers are these reference-spewing machines, but I figure if you’re going to do it, you might as well do it well. And Norton does it pretty damn well. My heart positively fluttered at seeing how 2001: Space Odyssey got woven into the main storyline.

I also loved the way it touches on the complexity of parent-child relationships. Cliff’s mother is a very kind, very loving woman when it comes to every aspect of his life except for one: his abusive father. With her, Norton pitches the question of how your parents can be so supportive and wonderful in certain aspects, but not so in others. And as with everything else, Cliff puts it perfectly:

“In times of peace, she was Mother of the Year. In times of war, she was a mannequin.”

So what does this make her? A bad parent? An enabler of abuse? A victim? There’s no one satisfactory answer. Part of growing up is realizing that your parents are very, painfully human, that they make very human mistakes, and that sometimes they’re just as lost as you are. And Norton explores this with pitch-perfection.

Most importantly, though, Neanderthal shines a spotlight on human potential, and the hope that there is always, always good in this world. It calls on you to embrace empathy and discard apathy. To show vulnerability and to take a chance into the unknown, the strange. I admit, there was a point where I thought to myself, “Is this a little too heavy-handed?” Then I realized, no. I don’t think there’s ever a heavy-handed way of saying that life matters–that you matter. There are scenes near the end that moved me to my core, and you can bet this is one of those books I’ll be returning to time and time again.

Diversity Spotlight Thursday: Historical Fiction | 3 Days, 3 Quotes [Day 1]

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Diversity Spotlight Thursday is a weekly meme that’s hosted by Aimal from Bookshelves & Paperbacks and the idea is that each week you come up with three book for three different categories: a diverse book you’ve read and enjoyed; a diverse book that’s already been released and is in your TBR; and a diverse book that hasn’t been released yet.

This week’s topic is: Historical Fiction

I’ve been stupidly busy for the last week and a half with work, volunteer, and various personal stuff, so to save time, I’ve decided to smoosh two sort-of-related posts into one. I’m also rather behind on comments so I’ll be slowly be catching up on all your recent posts!

DIVERSITY-SPOTLIGHT---Historical-fiction

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At Swim, Two Boys by Jamie O’Neil

At Swim, Two Boys is one of those books that makes you think, “No human could have written this,” and at the same time, “Only a human could have written this.” O’Neil manipulates the English language with the finesse of a god and the pathos of a mortal to produce what is probably the most beautifully-crafted piece of fiction I have ever read. And it’s so wonderfully accessible, because although the story is historical–one that slides a lens over the 1916 Easter Rising in Ireland–at its core it’s a tale of the endurance of love, friendship, and youth amidst violence and hatred. And anyone, regardless of sexuality, nationality, age, or gender can relate to that.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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Fingersmith by Sarah Waters

Sarah Waters is the Queen of lesbian historical fiction, and Fingersmith has been on my TBR for a while now. I did, however, end up watching the Korean movie adaptation, The Handmaiden (아가씨) last year, and it utterly blew me away. Sexuality and open expression of sexuality–of any kind–is still very much a taboo subject in South Korea, so it’s eyebrow-raising (in the best way) to see them produce something so beautifully erotic. If the original story is anything close to this film, then I’m in for a wild ride.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy by Mackenzi Lee

This one might be cheating because the first book in the series was a historical fiction with a dash of fantasy and I have a feeling the sequel will follow that trend, but it looks too good to pass up. Felicity was my favourite character from Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue and I was beyond stoked to hear that she would be getting her own book. The story feature ace rep and a possible (?) F/F pairing, which is exciting.

Goodreads | Amazon (US) | Book Depository

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And for the second part of this post, I’ll be doing the 3 Days, 3 Quotes tag! I was tagged by Alyssa from Serendipitous Reads ages ago, so thank you, Alyssa! She writes the some of the most thoughtful reviews so go check her out and shower her with love.

The Rules

1. Thank the person who nominated you
2. Post a quote for 3 consecutive days (1 quote for each day)–I’m totally gonna be bending this rule
3. Nominate three new bloggers each day

Because it’s Pride month, I wanted to share my favourite quote from At Swim, Two Boys:

“Help these boys build a nation their own. Ransack the histories for clues to their past. Plunder the literatures for words they can speak. And should you encounter an ancient tribe whose customs, however dimly, cast light on their hearts; tell them that tale; and you shall name the unspeakable names of your kind, and in that naming, in each such telling, they will falter a step to the light.

For only with pride may a man prosper. With pride, all things follow. Without he have pride he is a shadowy skulk whose season is night.”

This passage drove me to tears the first time I read it. It just speaks so powerfully of the importance, the necessity, of seeing our queerness reflected out in the world–whether through literature or some other medium. Each LGBTQIAP+ story is a call that says, “Your existence is beautiful,” and that’s something we need to be hearing every day, every minute of our lives.

Today I tag:

1. Gerry from The BookNook UK
2. Lily from Sprinkles of Dreams
3. Vera from Unfiltered Tales

 

Review: A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe – An Exciting Intragalactic Adventure

A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe

Title: A Big Ship at the Edge of the Universe
Author: Alex White
Publisher: Orbit
Release Date: June 26th, 2018
Genre(s): Sci-Fi, Fantasy
Page Count: 480 (paperback)
Goodreads

Rating: 8.0/10

 

 

“You’re going to get killed.”
She looked across at him, stars in her eyes. “But what a grand way to die.”

A Big Ship At the Edge of the Universe had first caught my eye with its fantastic premise–a space opera featuring a treasure hunt, two women on the run, and a F/F romance. What’s not to like? And I’m pleased to say that the story lives up to my expectations. It combines high-octane action and charming characters to create a summer scifi that’s perfect for fans of Firefly and the Borderlands games.

Here’s the quick rundown: a cocky young woman crosses paths with a mouthy veteran. Both get kidnapped by the veteran’s former captain and are thrust into a hunt for a legendary ghost ship. Space battles ensue. Romances are had. Hand-to-hand combat is considered foreplay. And things get very, very dangerous.

Nilah is as privileged as they get. A bigshot racer with a rich father and utterly naive when it comes to the wider universe. Then, during one race, she bears witness to the murder of a fellow racer and she soon finds herself on the run with a hefty bounty on her head. Her life thus far has revolved solely around driving and trying to get her name inscribed in the racing history books. So this whole murdering and ship hunting business? Not a fan. At all.

In enters Elizabeth “Boots” Elsworth. An older veteran woman who now makes her paltry living as a treasure map maker and seller. Most of her maps are conjectures (i.e. junk), but every so often she happens on the real deal, which, unfortunately, turns out to be the case here.

Boots and Nilah are fantastic together. Nilah reminds me of a bratty princess (who can also throw a hell of a right hook), and Boots a world-weary gunslinger with a penchant for sass and sarcasm. We’ve seen this dynamic plenty of times with male characters in every genre of fiction, so it’s exciting to see it played out between two women. Boot’s sarcastic quips never failed to make me smile and Nilah’s reckless, daredevil spirit is nothing less than infectious. They’re both characters you can’t help but want to be best friends with.

The side characters are also varied and interesting–especially Orna, the hot-tempered quartermaster and Nilah’s love interest. Their romance will appeal to fans of the enemies-to-lovers trope; there’s enough friction between them to light up an entire city and I loved every bit of it.

What’s also impressive is the magic system. Yes, there’s magic in this story, and though it’s strange saying this about a space opera, it’s very cool. When most scifi stories try to incorporate magic into their world, they don’t call it “magic”, they give it scientific-sounding names, a la “Biotics” from Mass Effect. But we all know they’re just wizards in space. Here? No such coy winking. Alex White blatantly calls them “wizards” and “mages” and their abilities are literally just spellcasting. I love that. Magic and future tech seamlessly interact in ways that are inventive yet highly plausible, which, for fantasy and scifi lovers, is truly the best of both worlds.

What’s even more fascinating is that this is a world in which magic is the norm. The majority of people are all born with the ability, and being a non-caster is considered an incredibly rare defect. Thus “non-casters” are often treated with pity and distaste. It’s an interesting societal characteristic that I would love to see explored deeper in the sequels.

The story isn’t without a few problems. I couldn’t get a good sense of what some of these planets looked like beyond the basics, which was a little frustrating. And throughout the second half, I found myself craving a bit less action and a bit more character interaction. Nilah and Boots’ burgeoning friendship is put on hold in favour of moving the plot forward and we get less scenes of them together. Nilah and Orna’s relationship also seems to skip several steps in the middle–moving from “I’m going to bash your head in” to “I love you” a little too quickly for my liking.

All in all, though, A Big Ship is a lovable story–full of crazy action scenes, an eclectic cast of characters, and a myth to chase–and I had a ton of fun with it. Book two will be dropping later this year and I very much look forward to seeing what adventures these characters will face next.

~
ARC provided by Orbit in exchange for an honest review