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.

flourish

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

 

 

Book Haul – March 2018

Book-Haul-March-2018
My March book haul was the biggest so far this year, mostly because the Canadian customs is annoyingly slow and inconsistent, so books I’d ordered months ago from the UK just now arrived.

Book-Haul-March-2018-2

  • A Closed and Common Orbit by Becky Chambers
    I confess I haven’t read The Long Way to A Small Angry Planet yet, but this was stupidly cheap on Book Depository. And one of my goals in the next couple of months is to read the first two books before the third one drops.
  • Churchill’s Ministry of Ungentlemanly Warfare by Giles Milton
    I’m a sucker for WW2 nonfiction and this caught my eye a year ago but I never got the chance to pick it up.
  • The Last of the Wine by Mary Renault
    This took nearly FOUR months to arrive. I’d given it up for dead, said my laments and prayers and got my refund, and then one day it appears out of nowhere in a packaging that looks like something that crawled out of a war zone. Anyway,
    I’ve been meaning to read Mary Renault for years now and I figured one of her standalones would be a good place to start.

Book-Haul-March-2018-3

  • Imposter Syndrome (The Arcadia Project 3) by Mishell Baker
    Read it, loved it.
  • The Girl Who Fell Beneath Fairyland and Led the Revels There by Catherynne Valente I loved the first book so I’ll be slowly going through the rest of the series this year.
  • Lamb: The Gospel According to Biff, Christ’s Childhood Pal by Christopher Moore
    My first Christopher Moore purchase and it certainly won’t be the last one.

Book-Haul-March-2018-4

  • Jade City (The Green Bone Saga 1) by Fonda Lee
    Currently reading through this and absolutely loving it. Look out for a glowing review.

  • The Mars Room by Rachel Kushner
    This one’s a giveaway win. It’s been likened to Orange is the New Black, so colour me interested.

Book-Haul-March-2018-5

  • Skullsworn by Brian Staveley
    I’ve never read Staveley but I sampled a bit of his writing from The Art of War anthology, and it turns out the style is kind of my jam, so I’ll be reading this once I finish the Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne trilogy.
  • The Providence of Fire (Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne 2) by Brian Staveley
    For some reason I had the first and the third book of the trilogy but was missing the middle one, so I had to remedy that.

Book-Haul-March-2018-6

  • The Seven Deaths of Evelyn Hardcastle by Stuart Turton
    I couldn’t wait until September for this one. It’s so, so good.
  • Fool’s Errand by Robin Hobb
    My current mission is to collect every english version of Robin Hobb’s Realm of the Elderlings books (which is my all-time favourite series), and I was lucky enough to find this near-pristine US hardback of Fool’s Errand.

And there you have it. Tell me if you see any of your favourites and any that you think I should read immediately!

 

[Review] Imposter Syndrome – A Brilliant Combination of Action, Complex Characters, and Heartfelt Examination of Mental Health

Imposter Syndrome

Title: Imposter Syndrome (The Arcadia Project 3)
Author: Mishell Baker
Publisher: Saga Press
Release Date: March 13th, 2018
Genre(s): Urban Fantasy
Page Count: 481 pages
Goodreads

Rating: 9.0/10 (Champions of the Genre)

 

 

 

So this review started out as a normal review and then it morphed into a weird self-reflection/series appreciation/review monstrosity. Because my god, Imposter Syndrome made me feel a lot of things. It’s a pitch-perfect conclusion (maybe?) to a series that has wormed itself into a special place in my heart, and it left me crying for most of its latter part.

So buckle up. This might be a long one.

Following the shattering revelations at the end of book 2, Imposter Syndrome starts out three months later, smack in the middle of a Cold War between LA-New Orleans Arcadia, led by Alvin, and UK Arcadia, led by Dame Belinda Barker. To make matters worse, there’s tension building among the fey. King Claybriar and Queen Dawnrowan are on opposite sides of the Seelie, the latter supporting Belinda, and Queen Shiverlash and King Winterglass of the UnSeelie would gladly see each other’s throats torn out. So when Tjuan (senior agent of LA4 Arcadia) gets framed by Belinda for a crime he did not commit, our protagonist Millie Roper decides that the best defense is an offense and plans a heist that would strip Belinda of crucial resources that grant her complete control of this conflict.

I found Imposter Syndrome much better in terms of plot and pacing than Phantom Pains. My problem with book 2 was that the plot felt very scattered–one minute Millie would be investigating the possibility of a ghost, the next she’s dealing with a murder investigation, and so forth. Everything is more focused this time around, on the heist and thwarting Belinda Barker. The characters know what they need to do, they know what’s at stake, and they just go for it. It’s simple yet perfectly executed.

The heist itself is brilliant. This is no Ocean’s Eleven with the best of the best doing their thing with confidence and cool. This is Millie and her wayward companions fumbling their way through one of the most ridiculously-plotted heists in the history of heists. It is a ton of fun with plenty of laugh-out-loud moments. And there’s this one sequence in the middle of it that’s so cleverly-structured, it made me punch the air in excitement.

But as it has been for the past two books, the characters are the focal point of the story. The series remains one of the most diverse in fantasy: there are major POC characters, a bisexual protagonist, a lesbian love interest, a trans male character, and bi(pan?)sexual fey. And Millie continues to prove why she’s one of my favourite protagonists ever, with Mishell Baker finding the perfect balance between self-deprecation and snappy humour.

“Everytime I try to put it down I freak out. Last night I slept with it tucked into my pillowcase.”
“That is called anxiety, Millie.”
“Gotcha. Sometimes I can’t tell the difference between sorcery and insanity.”

Millie has a lot on her plate–she has to deal with her BPD on top of all the Belinda and the fey stuff. And she fucks up. A lot. She gets paranoid and jumps to conclusions and sets back her own plan by miles. But what she doesn’t get are excuses from the people around her. They don’t coddle her; they don’t blame her BPD. They say: “This is your mistake. So take responsibility and fix it.” And she does try to fix them. I can’t properly express how much I appreciate this. To see a mental disorder depicted not as a throwaway quirk or stepping stones to a hurt/comfort plotline, but as something that’s a part of the character and which she needs to learn to manage. And the latter is an ongoing process with a lot of stumbles and failures, but also successes. I have yet to find such candid portrayal of mental health in any other fantasy.

Meanwhile, Caryl is dealing with the fact that all her emotions are now hers to feel and hers alone (most of the time, at least), with her familiar Elliot no longer permanently acting as her “trauma container.” So things are hard for her as well, especially when it comes to Millie. While they have cute and sweet moments together, their relationship overall is a kind of a trainwreck. There’s no doubt that, professionally, they’re both talented and competent people; it’s just when the personal issues rear their heads that things start to go sideways.

And I love that. I love how messy it all is.

Because while I don’t have BPD like Millie or a history of childhood abuse like Caryl, I see a lot of myself in both–Millie’s impulsiveness and selfishness, Caryl’s hyper-emotional, sponge-like state, and both of their low self-esteem. And some of their struggles hit a little too close to home, like Millie’s unwillingness to acknowledge her relationship with Zach, her maybe-boyfriend. And her struggles with relationships in general:

Claybriar: “You’re always the first thing in my mind. I’d fuck you if I could, believe me. But with her, it’s that–you know, that breathless thing where you don’t even feel quite safe. Like you’re falling.”

Millie: “It’s always like that for me at first…And then it mellows. Or goes away altogether.”

(Get out of my head, Mishell!)

And all the times Millie and Caryl burst into tears, seemingly out of nowhere, struck me to the core. Because in the words of Moonlight, “sometimes I cry so much I feel like I’m gonna just turn into drops.” Because a lot of the times I find myself wishing for an Elliot of my own. Something to stop me from reacting to everything around me with so much anxiety and sadness and heartbreak.

And that’s really what this book, and this entire series, is. Not about Seelie and Unseelie and Hollywood, but about people, both human and fey, who have extraordinary abilities and walk through extraordinary worlds, and yet still grapple with the same pains that I do.

Now, is it realistic that people carrying around so much emotional trauma and mental health struggles can come together in such a short time to pull off a high-stakes heist? I don’t know–maybe not.

Is it inspiring and validating?

Fuck yeah.

None of these characters are, in the traditional sense, heroes–Millie even says at one point, “I’m more of a shit-stirrer than a hero.” They mess up; they act selfishly; they hurt one another on purpose and by accident; and they’re constantly at war with their own minds.

But nor are they broken people. These guys spend most of the story running around scared out of their minds and full of doubt and they still somehow manage to pull things off. They’re always, always trying to move forward, with however many falls and stumbles they experience along the way. And sometimes that’s all that matters.

And that, to me, is realism. That is what being a human is all about.

I applaud and thank Mishell Baker for writing characters whose honesty doesn’t leave me feeling trapped or vulnerable, but included. Known. And if this is truly the end of the series, then it’s a fitting one. Not a happily ever after, but one that feels right and brims with hope.

Read this book. Read this series. You’ll not find another like it.

 

Most Anticipated Scifi & Fantasy: Feb-April 2018

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2018 has some incredible books coming out, and since I can’t narrow the list down to a reasonable number (and since you don’t want to spend days scrolling through a blog post), I’m dividing them into chunks! Three months per genre, starting with Scifi and Fantasy. And yes, I’m lumping them into one.

FEBRUARY

The Armored Saint by Myke Cole

The Armored Saint
First of a trilogy, The Armored Saint is Myke Cole’s first foray into epic fantasy. I haven’t had a chance to read his Shadow Ops series, but I’ve heard many good things about it, so I figure this would be a good introduction to his writing.

The story features Heloise, a young village girl fighting oppression in a land of machines and magic. It sounds dark, gritty, and the themes are right up alley.

Releases February 20th

MARCH

Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

Children of Blood and Bone

This YA fantasy debut has been receiving early accolatdes left and right, and no wonder. The cover is phenomenal, the worldbuilding sounds complex, and it’s already been nabbed by Fox for movie development. It’s yet another story revolving around oppression and revolution.

They killed my mother.
They took our magic.
They tried to bury us.

Now we rise.

Releases March 6th

Imposter Syndrome by Mishell Baker

Imposter Syndrome
Borderlines, the first book in The Arcadia Project series, is one of my favourite urban fantasy books and it introduced me to Millie Roper, who is, hands down, my favourite urban fantasy protagonist ever. Mishell Baker draws from her own experiences and seamlessly incorporates Millie’s BPD and disability into the story without letting it define her character. She’s clever, funny, and when she fucks up, she really fucks up.

I can’t wait to read more of her.

Releases March 13th

Master Assassins by Robert V.S. Redick

Master AssassinsIt’s been blurbed by Pat Rothfuss and given a rave review by Mark Lawrence–what more can I say? The generic title belies a summary that’s chock full of excitement and teases a dark adventure in a non-medieval setting. Most importantly, it promises something that I want to see more of in epic fantasy: sibling relationships. Plus, the cover features a saber cat and a lady whose arm appears to be on fire, which is always a cool combination.

Releases March 20th

 

Torn by Rowenna Miller

Torn
The first of the Unraveled Kingdom Series, Torn proposes a protagonist with a unique talent: magical dressmaking. I’m always on the lookout for fantasy stories that feature women in traditionally “domestic” roles, so this caught my eye immediately. Plus, it seems to have a bit of everything I love: revolutions, political intrigue, fancy balls, and romance.

Releases March 20th

 

Anna Undreaming by Thomas Welsh

Anna UndreamingAnna Undreaming is the first of the Metiks Fade trilogy. It’s an urban fantasy with a super fascinating premise–artists who can literally create new realities.

[Anna] finds herself hunted by Dreamers—artists, both good and evil, who construct new worlds—within a complex community that threatens to undermine reality itself. When Anna learns that she’s an Undreamer with powers she cannot yet comprehend, she must travel through their strange and treacherous creations to discover that there’s as much beauty in life as there is darkness. As her existence spirals into wonder and danger, Anna must look deep within herself and face the horrors of her own past, to save her old world as well as her new one.

Releases March 20th

The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

The Queens of INnis Lear
Three Queens. One crown. All out war.

Tessa Gratton’s adult debut is a retelling of Shakespeare’s King Lear with a feminist bent.

I’m very interested to see what changes, if any, are made to the original plot, and how the fantasy elements are woven in.

Releases March 27th

 

APRIL

Grey Sister by Mark Lawrence

Grey Ssiter

I swear Mark Lawrence gets better with every book he writes. Red Sister was his best one yet, full of intricate magics, violence, and exploration of female relationships, all woven with lush prose.

If he continues on in this trend, I have no doubt Grey Sister will be my new favourite Lawrence book.

Releases April 3rd

 

 

Space Opera by Catherynne Valente

Space Opera

Catherynne Valente has a talent for weaving magic and poetry into the strangest concepts. And Space Opera looks to be the strangest of them all:

Once every cycle, the civilizations gather for the Metagalactic Grand Prix—part gladiatorial contest, part beauty pageant, part concert extravaganza, and part continuation of the wars of the past. Instead of competing in orbital combat, the powerful species that survived face off in a competition of song, dance, or whatever can be physically performed in an intergalactic talent show. The stakes are high for this new game, and everyone is forced to compete.

It’s basically Eurovision in space. And I am not missing that for anything.

Releases April 3rd

Fire Dance by Ilana C. Meyer

Fire Dance
I sound like a broken record at this point, BUT JUST LOOK AT THIS COVER. It’s probably my favourite of the batch, which says a lot. Ilana Meyer’s debut, Last Song Before Night, was one of my top ten reads of 2015, and if this book is anything like the first, the quality of the cover will be a direct reflection of the content. Meyer has a deft hand for character development and atmospheric worldbuilding, and Fire Dance looks to continue Lin’s tale from where the first left off.

Though it’s technically a standalone, I highly recommend reading the first beforehand.

Releases April 10th

 From Unseen Fire by Cass Morris

From Unseen Fire.jpg

The Dictator is dead; long live the Republic.

But whose Republic will it be? Senators, generals, and elemental mages vie for the power to shape the future of the city of Aven. Latona of the Vitelliae, a mage of Spirit and Fire, has suppressed her phenomenal talents for fear they would draw unwanted attention from unscrupulous men. Now that the Dictator who threatened her family is gone, she may have an opportunity to seize a greater destiny as a protector of the people—if only she can find the courage to try.

There are three more paragraphs to the summary, and I get stupidly excited every time I read through them. Set to be the first in the Aven Cycle, From Unseen Fire is a mesh of alternate history and fantasy that I needed yesterday.

Releases April 17th

Time Was by Ian McDonald

Time Was

In the heart of World War II, Tom and Ben became lovers. Brought together by a secret project designed to hide British targets from German radar, the two founded a love that could not be revealed. When the project went wrong, Tom and Ben vanished into nothingness, presumed dead. Their bodies were never found.

Now the two are lost in time, hunting each other across decades, leaving clues in books of poetry and trying to make their desperate timelines overlap.

Yet another blend of history and SFF, I’m intrigued by the unique concept and its potential to break my heart in two.

Releases April 24th