Megan G reviews A Line in the Dark by Malinda Lo

A Line In the Dark by Malinda Lo cover

Jess Wong is the girl nobody sees, and she’s okay with that. She likes to keep to herself, and to her art. The only person close to her is her best friend, Angie Redmond. Angie sees Jess, even if it’s not the way that Jess wishes that Angie would see her. It’s enough for Jess. Until Angie starts to fall for Margot Adams, a girl from the nearby boarding school. As Angie’s relationship with Margot progresses, Jess and Angie are drawn into a world of wealth and secrets, of privilege and cruelty. A world where terrible things happen. A world where, suddenly, Angie doesn’t see Jess anymore.

This is a difficult book to review, because, despite its short length, it almost feels like two books merged into one. The first book is about a co-dependent relationship between two best friends, one of whom has a crush on the other. The second is a murder mystery. It just so happens that both books have the same characters.

The first part of the book is told from Jess’s perspective. Jess Wong is an unreliable narrator, to say the least, who paints her relationship with Angie as not only normal, but healthy. The problem is that it isn’t healthy, which I think Malinda Lo makes very clear. Every time Jess thinks about how wonderful her friendship with Angie is, Lo shows her doing something that proves it isn’t. In fact, the co-dependency between the two (but especially from Jess) can be difficult to read at times, as you can tell how much better these girls’ lives would be if the other weren’t in it.

In a way, I sort of appreciated this. I went into this book fully expecting this to be a pining, friends-to-lovers story, with a murder mystery twist. Instead, the twist is that the reader can tell full-stop that these friends should never become lovers, and in fact probably shouldn’t even be friends at all. Some of the things that Jess does when she and Angie fight are a little frightening, but Jess wants us to think that it’s totally okay. It’s realistic in its portrayal of the co-dependency found amongst many friendships, particularly teenage friendships, and like I said, I appreciate that. As well, I can look past the argument that would usually be building in my head (“There aren’t nearly as many stories about queer women as there are about straight women, so why can’t the ones about queer women be happy for once?”) because Malinda Lo has provided us with four incredible, happily-ending stories about queer women. She has proven that she believes queer women deserve happy endings. She now gets the benefit of the doubt that other authors might not.

I don’t want to say much about the second half of the book, because I don’t want to spoil any of the mystery. All I will say is that you should not read this book if you are hoping for a fantastic who-done-it. At its core, this book is about a toxic friendship, and how these types of friendships can shape who we are and the things we do.

As well, I think it’s important to mention that Jess is not only an Asian character, but she is also described as being fat. I didn’t realize she would be when I went into this story, and it was a very pleasant surprise for me. I do believe there is a little bit of internalized fatphobia, but never to the point of extreme dieting, or even considering extreme dieting. Just the typical thoughts of a woman who doesn’t quite look like the women who surround her.

Overall, I found this story intriguing and interesting, but incorrectly marketed. Although it is, in fact, a murder mystery, that is not what the novel is truly about. I will say right now that if you go into this novel just for the mystery, you will feel disappointed. This is a story about friendships and relationships, and how easy it is for them to become toxic, even when nobody is going out of their way to make them so. It explores human dynamics deeper than any of Malinda Lo’s previous works and sets itself aside as something new and unique. As that type of book, I recommend it. As a murder mystery, however, I would not.

Marthese reviews My Summer of Love by Helen Cross

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross movie cover

‘’Something within me sighed in relief and slotted into place like a bridge completes’’

My Summer of Love by Helen Cross was nothing like I expected. This was a library find and knowing that there was a lesbian movie with the same title, I borrowed it. Only, I had no idea what the movie was about and the book blurb didn’t offer many hints as to what was to come.

The plot follows Mona and Tamsin. Mona’s family own a pub, where she works but she also volunteers at the Fakenham’s estate to look after a horse; which is where she meets Tamsin again. Tamsin is back from boarding school and up to no good. This is perfect for Mona, who is interested in crime and gambling her money. Throughout the book, there are many hints that something will happen that summer and indeed, what happens was shocking.

‘’from the first real moment of our meeting I was already a criminal and she was distinctly witchy’’

Tamsin and Mona do get together. They love booze, dressing up and drama – lots of drama. What struck me was that what they loved about each other the most was probably the drama. They are inherently toxic for each other, and they know it. Tamsin has a superiority complex. She’s critical and cynical. Mona just wants to leave her family and is very jealous and spiteful. Both are alcoholics. Family relationships are an important aspect of the plot. The plot gets thicker when they live in Tamsin’s house alone for the summer.

While the plot was not what I expected, the writing was great. Some things were executed really well such as the chapters which were all named after a drink or food which was then mentioned in the chapter. If we had to keep in mind the time and place that this book fictionally took place in, the ideas about society and women and the nuclear war (cold war), the ideas presented feel very real. This does not mean that I want to read on how the protagonist thinks that ‘’with a tan and a pair of heavy breasts you need not worry about independence.’’ I am using more quotes than my usual reviews so that you, as potential readers, know what you are signing up for.

The ending was very disturbing, which is why I think this book belongs to the ‘horror’ section. The kind of horrors that are more disturbing because they could happen. This is not a Bury-your-gays book, but the ‘villains’ are queer. I kept hoping for the best and for a while, I thought it would happen but no, it didn’t. Mona and Tamsin liked to power-trip each other and scare each other on the regular.

My thoughts on this book are mixed. On the one hand it was executed half-well. There are still some sub-plots which I feel were left open and not like the main open-end but just left hanging. There was constant mention of one girl that went missing. It’s not explicit what happened to her and I felt like it was a wasted opportunity. Had I known what the book was about, I would have been ready for it, but as it was – I wasn’t. Some words left me perplexed. It took me many chapters to realize that ‘mesen’ meant ‘myself’.

The book offers a lot of introspection and is very depressing. This book has a whole list of trigger warnings. There is a lot of family issues, a lot of body image issues – this book could be very triggering. There’s a lot of body shaming as well and some animal neglect and child neglect. There’s also murder and suicide. There’s a lot of harmful bodily stuff, things that would make medical professionals cringe. There’s a lot of sexism, coming from everywhere, including the protagonists. It does offer a lot of thoughts on women. I particularly liked the message on the bodily fluids. I don’t think it’s something that a lot of writers touch upon and it’s something many people live every day.

In conclusion, while this book is Sapphic, unless you are in the mood for a dark read – don’t read it. Just when I thought there was hope for Mona…there wasn’t. This is the ultimate example of what peer pressure and being caged and  wanting attention and having darkness that is not addressed in a healthy was could lead to. It’s pretty disturbing and I was also not sure if the two protagonists actually loved each other or whether it was a matter of two dark souls meeting and corrupting each other further.

Megan Casey reviews Murder in the Castro by Elaine Beale

Lou Spencer, your normal, tomboyish young Englishwoman, has fled to San Francisco to escape a bad relationship in her home country. Five years have passed, and although she has been celibate the entire time, she has found a meaningful job as office manager for a LGBT Crisis Management Center. But when one of the Client Advocates is murdered in his office after hours, her rather insulated existence is disturbed to the max. All the indications are that this is a random hate crime, but is it?

A literary theory professor I know once said that whether or not a reader likes a novel has little to do with its importance. I don’t like Madame Bovary, for instance, but that doesn’t mean that Flaubert didn’t influence generations of writers. Elaine Beale isn’t Flaubert, yet my friend the professor’s tenet still holds true. I didn’t care for the novel, yet I realize that there are many things unique and, yes, important about it. Let’s start with these.

First of all, this is what I might call a Movement novel: one that chronicles some form of LGBT or women’s politics in the last years of the 20th century. Think of Vicki P. McConnell’s The Burnton Widows, Barbara Wilson’s Murder in the Collective, or Mary Wings’ She Came Too Late. Chronicling the history of this movement is important not only for what the movement accomplished, but because it was so relatively short, coming in with the hippies and out with the yuppies. Beale gives quite a nice description of an office whose purpose is to help gays and lesbians who have been abused on the street or in the home.

The second excellent thing about this novel is the mention of same-sex domestic abuse; Lou has come to the U.S. to escape from her abusive girlfriend.  While many lesbian novels focus on the abuse of a female character by a husband, father, or other family member, few lesbian authors feel comfortable confronting abuse in their own domestic partnerships.

The mystery, too, is an interesting one. I found myself wanting to know who the killer was, although an observant reader could have guessed who the culprit was on page 22

It is a fast-paced novel, moving quickly from one clue to the next. To the author’s credit, she uses similes instead of plain description. Unfortunately, a lot of the comparisons are overstated, such as when, at a local news conference, Lou describes the media as being “like sharks at a feeding frenzy,” or “if I ever became mayor, I’d not only make car alarms illegal, but possession of them punishable by several years hard labor.” Most of these turns of  phrase could have been (and probably should have been) used to better effect somewhere else. Like in a stand-up comic’s routine.

The investigating officer is homophobic to the point of cliché. Although this is not so unusual in lesbian mysteries (see Kate Delafield’s first partner)—or even in real life—it just isn’t very interesting or pleasant to read about them. Unlike Kate Delafield’s partner, who seemed real, with a real family and real plans, there is nothing distinctive about this man, which tells me that the author really didn’t know her characters as well as she should have. The ending, too, is obviously staged for effect, not coherency. Give her a half star for bringing up same-sex domestic abuse, but take it away again because she only refers to it obliquely—she never really takes us as deeply as she might have into Lou’s abusive relationship with her ex.

All in all, there is nothing terribly wrong with the writing, or the characters, or the mystery, or the romance. The writing style and point of view are similar to that of Mary Wings. In fact, Wings also wrote a book with The Castro in the title in the same year as this one. Fans of Wings and Sarah Dreher will probably like this book. Unfortunately, I’m not a fan of either. You know how you sometimes meet someone and the two of you—like me and Flaubert—just don’t click? It is the personality of the writing—and necessarily of the first-person narrator—that keep this book from getting more than 3 stars. But that is still a fairly good rating, considering.

Note: I read the first New Victoria printing of this book.

Another note: See my full reviews of over 250 other Lesbian Mystery novels at http://www.goodreads.com/group/show/116660-lesbian-mysteries

Marthese reviews A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame

‘’Duty and service come first’’

I have a soft-spot for queer royalty romance books. I have said it before and I stand by it. When I discovered A Royal Romance by Jenny Frame, it was an immediate add to my TBR. When I saw there was an audiobook, I took the opportunity to honour one of my New Year’s resolutions. The audiobook is narrated by Lesley Parkin, and let me just say that the voice was fantastic.

Set in the future, Frame’s A Royal Romance follows Princess Georgina (soon Queen) and Beatrice Elliot, a Republican charity worker. Georgina is the first openly gay monarch and the first woman to be first in line before her brother. The royal family were (almost) all a delight; they were so supportive of Georgina – although as head of the family, they rely a lot on her. Who will she rely on?

Beatrice and George meet after Georgina becomes Queen. On her road for coronation, George wants to support one main charity – to give them patronage and exposure. She chooses Beatrice’s charity for their great work and Bea, as the regional manager, is the only person who can take her around the country on site visits. This sets some sparks flying. They clear things enough to be able to work together, but the class and cultural divide is ever-present, and it doesn’t take much for hostility and misunderstandings and feelings of inferiority and inadequacy to take over. A lot of misconceptions have to be cleared up first.

Bea is refreshing to George. They both challenge each other to think in a different way. It’s a monarchy match, especially because George has to marry and she prefers to marry for love…she just has to convince Beatrice.

Sarah and Reg Elliot, Beatrice’s parents were also a delight. It’s the kind of family most people dream of.

The ending of the story was action packed. Some tragedy and lots of celebrations.

The world building in the book was deeply researched and it shows. I learned a lot of new things about monarchy and places. There were a lot of staff positions, creating this intricate web of people surrounding the royal family, although at times I felt there were too many people involved. There were also a lot of traditions (George is old-fashioned) and protocols (much to Beatrice’s annoyance). All this added up for the story to feel realistic.

While I enjoyed the story I felt there were some things that could have been better. There was the generic discourse of ‘gay or straight’. Moreover, despite the story being set in the 2050s, it’s still ‘man or woman’. I would like authors that acknowledge other sexual and/or romantic orientations and a diversity of genders! I also had minor problems with lack of explicit consent or delayed consent.

I also felt that their relationship moved too fast. Granted, there was a timeline and it’s not like they could afford to have privacy, but Bea’s character would have at least said something.

The narrator was great. Parkin gave different voices to each character and distinguished them from the narration voice. At times, I forgot it was just one person. My only issue was with the Belgian accent but accents are very hard to replicate. George’s voice is very poised, whereas Bea’s voice is saccharine sweet.

Despite loving royalty in books (they spice things up), I’m much more of a presidential republican but the reasons given in the book for Monarchy actually made sense and I went on the journey with Beatrice.

Overall, I enjoyed the story. It entertained me during many hours on the bus. The struggle for Georgie’s and Bea’s relationship was real. I would recommend to romance lovers, monarchists or British lovers. This is a perfect beach (or cozy) read.

Quinn Jean reviews Taking Flight by Siera Maley

[This review contains spoilers and a brief mention in paragraph four of homophobic abuse and alcoholism in the novel.]

Taking Flight is a young adult coming-of-age novel by Siera Maley where lesbian LA-born and bred high school senior Lauren gets in trouble for skipping school and is sent to live with a middle-aged Christian youth worker David and his family in rural Georgia. When she arrives Lauren discovers she’ll be sharing a bedroom with David’s daughter Cameron, a very beautiful church-going cheerleader, and you can probably guess how Lauren feels about that.

There are a lot of things to like about Taking Flight, not least of all the tender love story at its core. The lead character has been sure of her sexuality and comfortable with it from a young age which is a pleasant contrast to many formulaic WLW YA books where the protagonist has a sudden lightbulb moment after meeting a bold new person who pushes them out of their comfort zone. Taking Flight doesn’t particularly play in to tired stereotypes about the southern USA either. And Maley doesn’t waste time doing too much boring set-up before throwing Lauren into the far more interesting fish-out-of-water premise of the novel, instead filling in gaps later as need be.

There are a lot of plot holes though, some big and some small, and Lauren as a character isn’t particularly three-dimensional, instead seeming to serve as a bland narrator that the reader can substitute themselves with. For a lot of readers this might be ideal, it just would’ve been nice for Lauren to have more hobbies, interests, quirks and motivations of her own to go with those of the other major characters, even if she had found those once she arrived in Georgia. Also Lauren’s entire family history doesn’t quite make sense; both her parents’ long Hollywood marriage after meeting as teenagers and the press’ complete disinterest in the child of an A-list actress are implausible in the twenty-first century.

To its credit the novel realistically depicts people’s varied responses to different characters coming out throughout the story, with many characters being accepting if not always enamoured of homosexuality, while one character’s aggressive reaction is one of the only potentially distressing scenes in the book. Additionally the complex feelings Lauren has towards her father due to his functional alcoholism are also handled sensitively. Ultimately the  central love story where two very different people from contrasting worlds give each other the space to express themselves and offer open-hearted support for each other’s innermost feelings and dreams is undoubtedly the most beautifully realised part of the novel and certainly what makes it worth reading.

Taking Flight gives the impression that the author wanted to offer readers a teenage gay love story that unfolded slowly, and was built on kindness and respect, and had an uplifting (excuse the pun) ending. While there are some weak spots, for the most part Maley succeeds with soaring colours (couldn’t help myself).

Mars reviews Seeing Red by Cara Malone

Cara Malone’s Seeing Red is like that daytime soap opera that you can’t help but watch, no matter how much the characters have you clutching your pearls and loudly shouting about foreshadowing. Everyday heroes, villains, and questionable moral situations abound in this entertaining and somehow heartwarming story.

Our main hero here is Hunter Ross, completely exhausted loving auntie extraordinaire. Hunter is the ride-or-die sister that we all wish we could have. She dropped out of nursing school two years ago to help her sister Piper support her two nephews. No matter what they do though or how many hours Hunter clocks in at the nursing home, the looming tower of bills never seems to go down. Hunter barely has time to sleep, never mind romance.

As she tries to keep Piper walking on the straight and narrow after a brush with crime that got her scamming husband Jed Wolfe thrown in jail, the universe throws the sisters a bone in the form of the Kiera Murphy, a sweet college student with a generous heart and a rich, sassy grandmother looking for a nurse as she begins to slowly lose her memory. As fate would have it, Hunter appears in their lives and is just what the doctor ordered. .But is she? With Hunter comes her family, and with Hunter’s family, there’s always something looming.

While this story has a lot going on including (but not limited to) identity theft, sororities, family, diabetes and Alzheimer’s, the author has woven together serious themes and the light-hearted warmth of new love into a sweet and sometimes sizzling story. I would say that this story is a good poolside read. It’s deals with heavy themes but doesn’t leave readers bogged down, gets dark without breaking your heart, and provides just enough mystery that it’ll be impossible to read just one chapter at a time.

Genevra Littlejohn reviews Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst

Inkmistress by Audrey Coulthurst cover

Inkmistress is Audrey Coulthurst’s second novel, and the first of her works that I have personally read. It’s the story of a young demigod hermit, daughter of a human and a wind god, whose teacher has raised her separate from human beings in an effort to protect her from them. Asra is an herbalist who has the power to write fate into being by using her blood as ink and her lifespan as fuel.  She’s used the power only once before, inadvertently causing an ecological disaster, so it’s only out of the real fear of losing something precious to her that she uses it for a second time.  The love of her young adulthood, a human villager named Ina, is sworn a political marriage with the ruling son of another village unless unless she can gather enough of her own power to not need to marry.  In this world where every human being takes on a “manifest,” a bond with an animal which allows them to shapeshift, Ina’s lateness to develop the skill has made her vulnerable.  Longing to marry her herself, Asra writes Ina will find her manifest tomorrow, and her lack of specificity sets off a chain reaction of horrors; the village is massacred by invading bandits, and Ina takes a dragon as manifest by force, cutting herself off from the gods and dedicating herself to vengeance.  Asra has no choice but to follow her, down from the mountains she has lived in all her life, desperate to turn Ina from her horrible quest.

This book had me walking a balance beam between “Oh, I really like that!” and “Hmm, I think I would have done that differently,” which means it kept my attention until the last page.  I liked that the magic got very little explanation, and that was explained wasn’t done in a way that kicked me out of the narrative.  I very much enjoyed that the appearances of characters were described naturally, with no resorting to weird food metaphors to describe the characters of color. I appreciated that there was a sense of history to the piece, without any of the plodding common to early works of fantasy novelists; the characters were simply living their lives, navigating what eddies they had to to keep from drowning in fate, and the fact that they were in a world where the gods were very close to them didn’t matter as much as getting the harvests in, or avoiding a well-traveled road on a muddy day.

Both the protagonist and the antagonist of Inkmistress are bisexual, each of them having partners of multiple genders within the text, and it goes unremarked-upon by other characters, which is something I found comforting. In a world with dragons and shapeshifting warrior kings a person’s sexuality should be a subject of no note.  That said, there is a character who was disowned by her parents for getting pregnant without getting married first, so this world isn’t that far divorced from our own, which made the world feel familiar.

The things that I didn’t enjoy as much mainly came down to characterization.  Asra has spent her entire life on a mountaintop, separate from the village below and, after her master dies, totally alone for all the winter months. This has instilled in her a certain believable naivety and hunger for human communication, and it doesn’t seem like she ever overcomes that during the course of the novel. No matter how she is abused or manipulated for it, she does not gain worldliness.  In addition, despite the fact that she’s had it drilled into her head since infancy that her powers are dangerous, and that humans will take advantage of her to force her to use them, I’m not sure there’s a character with a speaking role who she doesn’t end up blabbing her secret to.  Predictably, this leads to her becoming a weapon for one character after another to use against their enemies. This does drive the plot, but I kept wondering how Asra thought she was going to survive, when everyone who knows her name seems to know that her blood could make them into something approaching demigods themselves.

I was most of the way through the book before I realized what it was reminding me of: there was a ghost of the same sort of driven desperation that I enjoyed in N.K. Jemisin’s “The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms.” That was a good surprise, since I adored that novel, and I could see something of a quieter, less-driven Yeine in Asra.   Asra accepted that she had only so much power, and due to that, that her agency was limited.  She never had enough choices, and none of the ones in front of her were good; in defter hands, that could have taken on a beautiful anxiety. As it is, the character’s constant uncertainty made her come off to me as a bit weak-willed.

Weak-willed can be kind of interesting, though, and Asra’s malleability was consistent.  While she couldn’t adhere to one frame of mind or one decision beyond “Stop Ina,” she’s that rare protagonist who is both terrible at saying no, to anyone, and generally capable of getting her own way out of her problems.  The fact that “out of a problem” means “into a worse problem” every single time just ratchets up the tension.

That said, I thought that the last few pages were a bit too pat and easy.  Asra had gone through physical, spiritual and emotional agony to come to where she was, but throughout the entire narrative she wasn’t ever able to make a choice and stick to it.  She vacillated between supporting one villain or another, walking one path or another.  Wind’s daughter that she’d thought herself to be, wind’s lover that she becomes, it seemed as if she spent the entire novel being blown this way and that, with little control of her direction.  I would have liked to see her plant her feet and make real demands of the world around her.

Final rating: ***

Genevra Littlejohn is a multiethnic, queer martial artist who lives in the woods with her partner and their two cats, baking and reading and cussing at her tomato garden.  She’s at http://fox-bright.tumblr.com, or you can find her on Facebook.

Whitney D.R. reviews Royally Yours by Everly James

I haven’t read much, if any, “secret royalty” romance.  I happened upon Royally Yours via social media and fell in love with the cover.  And I was even more pleasantly surprised that the black woman on the cover was the princess.  I was eager to dive into this story.

Royally Yours is a good, cheesy romance filled with cute fluff between Ellie and Melody.  Though I did feel there wasn’t as much relationship development as I would’ve liked. The two young women have a meet-cute at a farmer’s market and it’s attraction at first site.  There’s flirting and longing glances, but the budding romance feels more slow than slow burn. But when the two women finally get together? Utterly adorable.

What annoyed me most about the books was Ellie’s mishandling of finding out Melody’s secret.  Yes, Melody did technically lie about who she was, but that was more for Melody’s protection and wanting a bit of anonymity than hurting Ellie.  It’s not like Melody was dating someone else or, god forbid, some kind of international assassin. She was a young girl who wanted a bit of freedom from her overbearing life, and I didn’t understand how Ellie couldn’t understand that.

Another thing that bothered me was how Melody’s issues with her parents, her mother in particular, weren’t really resolved.  At least, not to my satisfaction. In real life, you don’t always get to have closure with people who’ve hurt you, but Melody’s mother refusing to acknowledge who Melody was and chose to love kind of soured the happily ever after ending for me.

Read this if you liked movies like The Prince & Me or the Hallmark Channel movie, A Royal Christmas.  Cheesy romance with a dash of melodrama, but with queer women.

3 Stars

Marthese reviews Dragon Horse War: The Calling by  D. Jackson Leigh

‘’I am this animal because they need me and my warriors to protect their reign of peace’’

I made a yearly resolution to read more fantasy, especially series since those are the kind of books that I end up enjoying the most. I did some research and found this series which is centered around queer women (after I got the third book as an ARC on Netgalley…I thought it better to start from the first!). Happy Woman’s day (for yesterday!) this book series does contain some kickass and imperfect women.

The story is set in the future. After religious wars, people have recognized the Collective and most people are enlightened on the fact that they had past lives. The story follows Jael and Alyssa, however, there are some parts told from other characters’ point of view. In fact, the story starts from the antagonist’s Cyrus’ point of views and there are some parts from his views, but only a little. Most of the chapters follow Jael and Alyssa. Jael has been a warrior for the Collective in all her lives. She burns the bodies of those that die alone in order to release their soul; she also kills those that are badly-born in one life in order to have peace in another. Alyssa is a healer type and an Advocate for the Collective. Jael has some interesting abilities and Alyssa also. They are the ultimate power couple…only they do not always agree on the methods to use. This is very much a plot where one character finds light and the other darkness, in order to form gray together.

As I mentioned, some parts are told from other characters’ points of views. One of them follows Kyle, Cyrus’ daughter. Cyrus became a prophet for the One – a monotheistic god from ancient religions. He also became a preacher for capitalism in a world that distributes fairly and treats everyone equally. Kyle is very much not like him but for a while, she does not know what to do.

The main plot point is that the Natural Order formed by Cyrus is becoming too dangerous. Food and medicine is being stolen and redistributed by them in a world which is facing many natural disasters in all of its borderless territories. The Guard, which Jael is the leader on, are assessing people that have heard the Collective’s calling and training them…to become Dragon Horse warriors. Yes, the Guard have a bond with horses that come darkness, sprout wings.

This book is part of a trilogy – both the name and the plot itself show this. This is only the beginning. It does not start too fast but the end has some interesting action. I have to admit that it took until almost the end for me to become interested in what would happen.

I have been researching and discovering what makes good plots and characters and this book had all the right things in place. However, one thing really bothered me, enough for me considering quitting. This book was published in 2015, so not that long ago. To me, there were two main problems. The first is that the Guard are pureblood descendants. The Natural Order is also preaching pureblood-ness (and are racist, unlike the Guard). At least, the Guard have a reason for this, although it confused me why they should keep to ethnic couples if they all had the gene. Perhaps that will be explained later on. I admit to not knowing a lot of biology. This factor bothered me a bit but I could understand that it was a plot point not ideology pushing as the people of this Collective world, do not care much for ethnicity.

The second factor that bothered me was that the author, in my opinion, confused gender and sex. A person that is intersex but identifies more towards being male, is said to be a third gender. There was also the phrase ‘same-sex oriented’ being used which is used in today’s reality but it would be more accurate to say, especially towards one particular character, that it was same-gender oriented. I have to admit that I cringed a bit with all these happenings in the book. At one point, ‘gendered’ is used. It’s also a very binary world still…you would think that it being set in such a fair and enlightened future, that it would be otherwise.

Despite this, the world building was okay. It was interesting to see what things from today would be called then. The horses were interested and the powers as well. It was interesting to see how Jael and Alyssa changed each other. Jael is a realist and Alyssa is an idealist but they both question what needs to be done. Jael at times was a bit too aggressive and at the beginning to sexually driven (she saw Alyssa as a sort of spoil of war! That changed quick however). Alyssa was very interesting. Although she’s a first life-er and Jael has so much experience, she isn’t pushed around. Even during sex, she doesn’t just sit there but she initiates as well and is active. There isn’t a lot of sex scenes although there are a few. There was one however, where even I (somewhat asexual and I tend to skim them) thought it was very hot and different from how they are usually written.

The fact that they like each other, doesn’t resolve their problems and their incompatibility. The characters are realistic, not always likable and that’s ok. Their relationship has chemistry but I found it a bit squeaky that they had sex before discussing and that one is super-protective even though Second, another character, said that Alyssa is a grown adult who makes her own decisions. Jael especially is ethically dubious, not in the fact that she must kill people but in the way she acts.

Overall, I’m intrigued enough to continue reading the series. I would give this book 3 stars. The ending was better than the start or the middle. I want to see the characters evolve. Whoever is interested in reading the series should proceed with caution on the topics mentioned above.

Danika reviews 50 Queers Who Changed the World by Dan Jones, illustrated by Michele Rosenthal

50 Queers Who Changed the World by Dan Jones and Michelle Rosenthal cover

When I originally saw this small, colorful book, I briefly wondered if it was a children’s book. The format is about the same as Good Night Stories for Rebel Girls: one beautiful illustration, plus a one page bio. I quickly realized my mistake when I read the biographies, which includes describing someone as jumping crotch-first into the queer scene. This is a “Gift” book, or a small coffee table book. Something to flip through, not necessarily to read cover-to-cover.

I have mixed feelings about this book. The portraits are gorgeous–and in fact, they predate the book. Michele Rosenthal’s Queer Portraits in History project inspired this book (in that they are the book, with bios to pad it out). Generally I did like the style of writing, which was playful.  There seemed to be a good mix of people included. I didn’t count them, but it wasn’t obviously mostly white men, though there are definitely more white people and more gay & lesbian people represented than people of color or bi and trans people, but I think that’s expected when talking about the history of the queer community. There were inclusions of people I hadn’t heard about before, but I appreciated learning about. Like Ron Woodroof, who was diagnosed with HIV in the 80s, and in response to the FDA dragging their feet about addressing the HIV/AIDS crisis, started a smuggling ring of HIV/AIDS drugs proven effective in other countries. He crossed the Mexico border hundreds of times in disguises to bring life-saving drugs into the US.

Unfortunately, there are some downsides. Despite being named “50 Queers Who Changed the World” (a controversial title, I know, but one I love), the intro says that you don’t have to be queer to be a queer hero. Sure, but you do have to be queer to be part of the group “50 Queers,” right? Luckily, there aren’t a lot of allies included (mostly just Madonna). There are, however, queer figures that are controversial in other ways. Like Dan Savage, who has been called out in the past for saying anti-bi, anti-trans, fat-shaming, and other hurtful things. Some of the people included are (or were) hateful towards other LGBTQ groups, or even their own. Some of the time this is mentioned, sometimes not. I can understand including those people if they have had a big impact, but I do think it’s worth disclosing. They also use the term “Aids” instead of “AIDS,” which was an odd choice.

Worse than those, though, is the constant misgendering of trans people. Any time that the book is talking about a person before they came out, it uses the wrong pronouns. Deadnames are used copiously, sometimes even seeming shoehorned in when completely irrelevant to the sentence.

I definitely recommend checking out the original Queer Portraits in History project and googling any person you’re not familiar with, but I don’t think I can recommend this book. With some slight changes, this would be a delightful little gift book to have in some queer waiting room, but not with the misgendering and other issues that are present.