Marthese reviews We Awaken by Calista Lynne

 

“I went on a date in a dream with a mildly mythical figure who couldn’t possibly exist. And we were swing dancing”

We Awaken is a Fantasy Young Adult short novel about Victoria and Ashlinn. What drew me to this book was the fact that it was a fantasy young adult book about an asexual couple. There aren’t many of those around! Despite being a fantasy, it’s also mixed with contemporary.

Victoria Lindy Dinham is going through a touch time. Her father died in a car accident a year before, and her brother fell comatose in the same accident. Her mother became vacant and uncaring and Ellie, Victoria’s best friend, is too different from Victoria. Dancing is her only outlet; until she meets Ashlinn.

Ashlinn is a creator of dreams, nice dreams. She visits Victoria to tell her about her brother, who she visits a lot. During their first meeting, Ashlinn gives Victoria a carnation that her brother Reeves had passed along. The flower stays in her room once Victoria wakes up, which makes her have proof that the dream wasn’t all a fantasy.

Apart from this meeting in dreams concept and the difficult times that Victoria is going through, this book is about the exploration of sexuality in the broader sense of the term.

I have to say, it took me around 30 pages to get into the story. Even though it was fantasy, it was a type I was not used to. However, I continued as I know about the asexual element (and how few there are) and I have to say, I don’t regret pushing on.

Victoria is a teenager and Ashlinn looks like one, although she isn’t. Despite this, although at time there is immaturity in the way they approach each other, for the most part there is a certain maturity that isn’t most often found in ‘teenage’ relationships. One example is earlier on when Ashlinn tells Victoria not to romanticize self-destruction. The two protagonists support each other, even in their relationships with other people. Ashlinn also helps Victoria explore her sexuality and her boundaries.

I liked both Victoria and Ashlinn, because they grew a lot but I also liked Ellie. When we first meet her, we see how Victoria views her as her best friend which she grew apart from in light of the tragedies in her life. However, Ellie is a very supporting friend that accepts Victoria for who she is, despite not understanding clearly.

At times, the tone is quite serious and sombre. Other times, it’s funny in the way that movie tropes are; such as changing in cars. Purely classic but also something relatable that some people do at times. It’s not a happy-go-lucky story, there’s a lot of pain but somehow, the protagonists carry on like one does in life.

For the book being fantasy, it’s relatable, especially for ace readers. My hopes for books like these is that there are more; that sexuality is viewed in a more complex manner, with easiness that does not make people feel like the odd one out when it’s not present in the sexual attraction way.

Marthese reviews “Olympic Hearts: A Tale of Two Goddesses” by Madeline Kelly

“As a goddess of love, it’s not my way to stay chaste”

“Olympic Hearts” is a short story by Madeline Kelly. Once I realized what it was about, I started reading it immediately because it combined my loves of reading about mythology and queer women. It helped that it was short, and although I wish I had the time to read more, sadly I don’t. This short story is around 30 pages long!

The story is about Aphrodite and Artemis, who seem to have a thing for each other. They meet during Aphrodite’s marriage to Hephaestus…so you can guess that the story may not be smooth sailing. While the main love, seem to be between the two women goddesses, the marriage to Hephaestus plays an important role in the story. Although non-explicitly, there is content in the story around Aphrodite and men.

That said, while the story is cute, it may not be for everyone. This is Madeline Kelly’s first published work and her passion does show in the writing but some elements were used that I was not convinced about. One such element was the use of modern language and phrases, such as “buddy” or “colour me unimpressed”  that to me, did not seem to resonate with the time that was being written about. I like to immerse myself in the world that is being written about and it’s a pet peeve of mine when languages does not fit with the story.

What I liked about the story is that it portrayed the gods like the mythology make them out to be: not perfect. Indeed, they have many faults and most of the problems were due to these faults.

For being short, the story does have a mild twist towards the end.

The concept of this story is good and I wish to see more similar stories, perhaps going into more depth and longer (let’s hope I will eventually have enough time to read them). People that don’t suffer from my same pet peeve and don’t mind non-same-gender non-explicit content, should give this story a go. We should support new writers so they cultivate their talent and we, as readers, should read different authors to find our styles and perhaps be surprised by liking something different.

Marthese reviews The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance edited by Melanie Gillman and Kori Michele Handwerker

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“Anyway, I’m pretty sure malevolent spirits wouldn’t scrub your bathtub”

The Other Side: An Anthology of Queer Paranormal Romance is, as the name implies, a queer paranormal romance comic anthology, published in July 2016. I had donated to a crowd-funding campaign for this anthology and I’ve been meaning to read it since it arrived in my inbox.

The anthology starts with some words from Melanie Gillman on the importance of representation in literature. A little disclaimer from my end; this is not a lesbian anthology, it’s a queer anthology which represents various genders. The stories are all non-explicit and quiet romantic.

I cannot go into much detail since the stories are short by my favourite stories were “Ouija Call Center”, “Shadow’s Bae”, “Till Death” and “Yes No Maybe”. “Ouija Call Center” is about a client that uses an Ouija call center to contact someone diseased and the operator! “Shadow’s Bae” is about a monster that becomes friends with a human and they stand up for each other. “Till Death” is a cute story and critical comic about an elderly couple and ghosts that stand up for their community against gentrification. Finally, “Yes No Maybe” is a comic about a tenant who tries to contact the ghost that’s in the apartment and is really adorable.

The art in the anthology varies from piece to piece; they are all so different from each other but this helps to distinguish one story from the other. The length on the story, I believe, is just right–not too long or too short.

The anthology as a whole has a lot of diversity in its representation of gender, ethnicity, culture and age. This collection does not shy away from using different cultures and mythologies for its base and does not include just stories with young characters. Many characters were people of colour. The relationships in the different stories are usually between a human and a supernatural being. Overall, most of the stories are really fluffy and cute so be warned! Although some had a darker tint.

What I like about this anthology are two things: its general cuteness and its queerness. There is a lot of representation for people out of the gender binary spectrum. This book is like a safe space, to enjoy a story rather than who is in the story. I’d recommend this book to those interested in comic anthologies, quirky criticism, cute stories, paranormal and overall stories that go beyond gender.

Marthese reviews Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea

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Mermaid in Chelsea Creek is yet another book I have been meaning to get into and the hype did not disappoint. This young adult fantasy book is set in Chelsea, Massachusetts and follows Sophia a teenage girl with Polish ancestry.

Sophia and her best friend Ella like to play the pass-out game because it’s the only thing to do in Chelsea. One day, when they are playing the game near the filthy creek, Sophia has a vision of a mermaid. Sophia’s mother Andrea is neglectful yet worried when Sophia admits to playing the game because she was freaking out. Something in her was coming forth. Sophia eats a lot of salt- this is a big element in the book.

At face value, this book is about Sophia coming into her powers and the people around her changing and being seen in new lights. Ella changes, people she saw often take on a new light and pigeons start to mean something nice, wonderful. On a deeper lever, this book tackles evil and sadness and the wrongness that’s in humanity- it treats elements like pollution and pain and sadness of both the oppressed and the oppressors. Humanity is caged, with seemingly no way out. This book plays on the readers understanding of these topics and offers lightness and hope. Sophia is supposed to help heal humanity from its corruption; her power allows her to see inside a person’s emotions and heal them. To heal humanity, that’s her mission.

Sophia discovers that she is a legend. She always knew she liked salt but now she understands why. Salt is an ancient preservative and measure- it makes sense to incorporate it into the story. Speaking about legends, this book beautifully incorporates different cultures and their ideas on witches. Chelsea is very multicultural.

This book also explores family dynamics: how generations can help each other or destroy one another. In Sophia’s case, it’s the latter; her mother is neglectful, her grandmother is worse. There are other positive family representations though. There’s Angel- who Sophia’s grandmother introduces as a guy but is in fact a girl- and her mother. There’s also Sophia’s lost relations which were in front of her the whole time.

This book features elements that at first you think are weird. Whoever thought that pigeons could be helpful main characters? Or mermaids making use of sea waste? All elements mash up well together. The sentences are constructed exquisitely, things like ‘She would submit to the grime, become like a feral cat wandering the heaps of trash’ offer a sense of aesthetic pleasure which Sophia, with all the awareness of her surroundings also shares with the reader. The illustrations, done in a simple style add more to the book experience.

The queer elements in this book do not focus on blatant relationships – although Angel for sure has a thing for Syrena the mermaid. Sophie is 13 but unlike Ella, she is not boy struck. She just values her friend.

I cannot wait to read the second book and see where the story goes. I definitely recommend this book to people that like fantasy, mermaids, pigeons, magic, character development and family dynamics and philosophical themes with some constructive criticism to the world that we live in.

Marthese reviews Climbing the Date Palm by Shira Glassman

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“Bravery isn’t all swordfighting and  riding dragons”

Climbing the Date Palm is the second book in the Mangoverse series by Shira Glassman. This series is a fantasy series with Jewish traditions and has a diverse cast with the main characters being Queen Shulamit and her girlfriend Aviva and Rivka, Shula’s head guard and Isaac, her companion.

The book picks up a little while after the first book ends and starts with Aviva encountering a near-to-death horse rider who turns out to been Prince Kaveh from the city of red clay who came to Riv- who is mistaken by most as a man, who has a male companion- to ask for help as his sweetheart Farzin was imprisoned by his father.

Our group of intrepid heroes, or well Shula’s group of close friends work to save Kaveh’s life. Rivka’s mother also joins the palace while Shulamit, who more than ever has her whole country on her shoulder comes up with a plan to sire and heir with the bisexual prince.

The plot follows the casts’ trials as they try to save Farzin’s life. Farzin, an engineer and old friend of Kaveh’s was imprisoned for siding with his  workers when they were not paid as they should; as well as for ‘corrupting’ Kaveh.

More than the plot, the story offers interesting conversations between the characters that allow the readers to think about life and its lessons in a very simplified way. The way that Glassman put things into perspective may sometimes be too simplistic but still very thoughtful. Things like bisexuality- and not being interesting in everyone, stereotypes on women and gay and bisexual people, parenting, being responsibility and insecurity and discussed in a mature but not complex way. Isaac provides very good pointers on how to strike up a conversation, if you ever need to gather intel!

I felt that this book, as mentioned, deals with heavy and exhausting topics – most of which many of us have to repeat over and over- in an interesting, sometimes metaphorical and simple way that almost everyone would be able to get. I felt it was more complex than the first book and the characters are growing into themselves. As it’s the second book, I cannot give much spoilers but the answer to problems in this world is answered with geekery from everyone, charm, persistence, team-work and effort.

The relationships in this book are very mature for the most part. Although there was a lesbian couple, and Shula is the protagonist; the story was more than that and included a lot of flashbacks from Farzin and Kaveh’s time together. The diverse characters work well together and are like a puzzle that fits with the story.

Climbing the Date Palm was a highly enjoyable read and as it’s part of a fantasy series, we get to immerse ourselves in the world for the duration of other books as well! I’ll definitely continue with this series.

Marthese reviews The Second Mango by Shira Glassman

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She also picked up a mango, and then, after thinking about it for a moment, bought a second as well.

The Second Mango is the first in the Mangoverse high-fantasy series. It felt so good to read fantasy again! Especially a book that I have been meaning to read for a while and now that the series has finished, I started. I had forgotten what the book was about, I just knew I wanted to read it so some things came as a surprise.

The series is set in a tropical setting but within a Jewish religious background which I had never read about in such a combination before. The plot follows Shulamit, a princess recently turned queen and Riv, her new appointed guard – after Riv saved her from being kidnapped after she visited a bawdy house to visit willing women. The rescue is the start of the book, so you can guess it was funny.

Queen Shulamit is skinny, of average looks and has black hair. Riv is tall and comes from the north. The two develop a friendship based on grief, trust and in my opinion, mutual book-nerdery. Riv becomes Shula’s traveling companion along with a horse that is sometimes a dragon. Riv is offered the position of head guard if Shula finds a sweetheart on their journey. Shula doesn’t know how to find other women that like women, after her ex, Aviva bailed on her so she has the idea that anyone wanting to avoid a husband would probably join a religious order… and they set off to visit these orders.

They run into adventures on the way. We see how Shula is quite the detective and intelligent and acts to save herself. Riv also has a painful past. Since it’s in the description of the book, I can reveal that Riv is actually Rivka, a woman that passes as a man for convenience. Rivka is a great warrior that fought to be the way she is. Rivka also lost her partner, the wizard Isaac. We get to see both Rivka’s and Isaac’s past and Shulamit’s and Aviva’s and I have to say, although this book is short, the four characters are developed and human.

The book subtly addresses gender identity and sexual orientation, although how gender identity is explored at one point is a bit problematic (it’s not just cross-dressing). There’s also a touch of biphobia in a comment meant to hurt but it’s not by our protagonists. I believe it also addresses the sexuality spectrum. Rivka isn’t someone that loves a lot and she only started feeling for Isaac, I believe, only after forming a connection with him. Perhaps because of the lack of ace and aro representation in literature but I believe that Rivka falls in the asexual spectrum (perhaps as a demisexual). I think there’s also a misunderstanding of what a sex drive is but, perhaps I over-analyzed. There are non-explicit sex scenes written between two women and a man and a woman that I think focus more on the emotions felt.

Although the adventures may seem as simplistic at times, they are fun and there are badass moments from our protagonists. Both Riv and Shula help each other grow and face insecurities. It’s a lovely start of a series.

I’d definitely recommend this book to fantasy lovers, people that have eclectic book tastes, people that like to see positive growing relationships and also great relationship material between a man and a woman, with it not being the main focus.

Marthese reviews Fat Angie by e.E. Charlton-Trujillo

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“There’s more to you than how you look, you’re more than a package”

Fat Angie is a book that I had been meaning to read for a while because it seemed like a complex and intersectional queer read. Spoiler: it is.

Fat Angie is about Angie, a rerunning freshman in Ohio who has a lot to deal with but never seems to give up. She takes on her sister’s advice and tries to ‘follow through’. Her sister, who, after a stint as a great basketball player, joins the army and is taken hostage. Angie still has hope that her sister is alive and fights everyone that tries to mud sling her sister.

Angie is bullied but she does stand up for herself sometimes. She wants to please her mother who sends both her and her brother Wang to therapy (and is dating their therapist) but her mother is never pleased. Be warned that her behavior could be triggering to some. Despite this, I find the characters in this book to be multidimensional. The bully may have reasons, the perfect popular star may not be perfect, the main character herself makes mistakes. Most characters are hurting and they cope differently.

Then there’s KC Romance, the new girl who falls for Angie and Angie falls for who sees Angie as Angie, without the fat. KC is a complex character, who is seen as ‘alternative’ but is popular yet she has a somewhat dark past but whose mother probably is the only mentioned parent that’s a parent role model.

Angie copes with her sister’s ‘MIA’ status with two, seemingly paradoxical things: binge eating and sport (first basketball in the steps of her sister and then another sport). At the beginning of the year, it is mentioned that Angie tried to commit suicide and this became a public event. Yet, she doesn’t give up. She doesn’t fit in, she’s awkward but she takes steps to move on despite being stuck somewhat in the past, when her sister was still with them.

Angie’s and KC’s relationship is deep, connecting, sweet with a cup of drama and misunderstandings and awkwardness thrown in. It’s a mature, teenage relationship that is not perfect but supporting the individuals within it.

Be warned that this book contains some triggers: suicide attempt, self-harm, body issues, mentions of death and torture, bad parenting and bullying. Sometimes, especially with Angie’s mother and her therapist, the reader is left bubbling with anger. At the end, I think that although not justified, we see also different sides to the characters that we do not like. The character development in this book was subtle, but well executed.

I would recommend this book, which I rated as five stars, to people that want to read a queer book where the main focus isn’t the relationship (it’s still a big part though).

I listened to this book as an audiobook- my first one- thanks to the Sync Audiobooks Summer program which means that this audiobook is free to download until today (21st July 2016)! I will try to read the book in the future to compare my experience but I think that the narration was done quite well and helped to immerse me in my experience (I coloured while I listened).

Marthese reviews The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift

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“She’d been utterly transfixed by the brunette practically making love to her cello”

The Tchaikovsky Affair by Marie Swift is a romantic novella about two musicians in the New York Philharmonic orchestra. It starts more like a romantic comedy then evolves more towards drama but in between there is a lot of fluff and probably some of the sexiest sex scenes ever!

The story is about Shannon McClintock who’s the concert master and first violin of the orchestra and Jacinta (Jackie) Ortiz, the new first cello. Sparks fly from the start but it takes the conductor’s intervention to get their relationship started. In many ways their relationship is tied to music and to the orchestra and they have to find a way to make their relationship stand on its own two feet.

The two musicians are paired together in a duet, of course they are playing Tchaikovsky and for a while, their relationship mirror’s his and Kotek’s relationship- don’t you just love historically queer relationships in other books?

I learned a bit about music. For sure I knew that music is sexy and sensual but after reading the first intimate sex scene…I see music in a new light. I’m not one that reads books just for the sex, I find that usually it’s the same descriptions over and over again. Not so much with this book!

Shannon has been hurt before and had promised to put her career first while Jackie has had many relationships mostly due to her music but because of her music, they tended to fizzle out. There is of course some drama in the book, from the middle of the story onwards but don’t worry, it’s worth the wait!

As this book is so short, it is mostly about the two with side characters acting as support (or hindrance) for their relationship. The two balance each other, even in their music. They must harmonize technique with passion, in their personal and professional lives.

I had been meaning to read this book for a while, and I’m glad I finally read it. At first, I thought it was going to be a light average read but after two chapters it got so much better! There was sexiness, fluff, drama, comedy and music- all done well if sometimes a bit trope-y.

I’d definitely recommend this book to anyone with a passion for music, or to those that want to read a romance that is a bit different.

Marthese reviews Sword of the Gladiatrix by Faith L. Justice

 

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“This has nestled between my breasts, lifted with my breath and listened to my heart.”

Sword of the Gladiatrix by Faith L. Justice is a historical fiction set during the time where ancient Rome controlled most of the Mediterranean and beyond. I love a good historical fiction set in ancient Rome, but there are so few with queer women! So when I heard about this book, I knew I had to read it.

The story is about a woman called Afra. Afra, which refers to the fact that she is from Africa, is from the kingdom of Kush, modern day Ethiopia and she is a hunter- or venatore (beast hunter) that served the ruler of her people. Due to really sad and angsty reasons she ended up as a slave. In the beginning, her situation is not so bad as Marcius, who she owned a life debt to and was her master, trusted her opinion and was a sort of friend to her.

The story is also about Cinnia, who comes from the Icene people in Britannia, modern day England. She was not raised as a warrior and would have rather been a storyteller at one point but soon learned to fight after sad and angsty circumstances in her life that then led her to be one of queen Boudicca’s female guards.

The story, as I mentioned is sad and angsty but also heart-warming as the two women discover each other and the ending did surprise me and kept me on my seat flipping pages. The beginning of the story sees Afra and Cinnia about to fight one another to the death in an arena, for the Emperor Nero; who I think in a paragraph the author summarised what he was all about rather than the tyrannical perception many people have of him. The chapters following the first show Afra’s and Cinnia’s stories and soon, they merge in Rome.

Cinnia’s and Afra’s relationship is the thing that grounds them to life. It’s the thing that keeps them going and helps them heal at the same time. They’re both strong women, that endured a lot and have their own scars. Afra is used at being the ‘top dog’ but sometimes Cinnia is better than her and Cinnia has lost so much and she only heals because of Afra’s care. Their relationship was easy to start but was difficult to maintain, they worked for it though. Most of the supporting characters are not nice, but I think, they are real and add to the story. There are even some historically famous background characters- the ancient history geek in me was ecstatic.

Be warned, there are a lot of triggers in this book, especially for death, mentions of rape, gruesome violence, animal to animal violence and slavery. Generally, these things are to be expected from this time period.

All in all, the book is well researched and at the end there is an explanatory note and glossary which I admit to liking a lot. Sometimes it may feel that with all the Latin words and life explanations, the story is a bit bumpy. It’s a historical fiction however, and I think it’s good to build the history part as well as fiction. I think Bonus points should be given to the author for demonstrating the diversity within the Roman Empire and for including a multi-racial and strong relationship with historical background of some known events.

I recommend this book to anyone interested in Ancient history and Rome, that isn’t easily triggered and that wants to read about a strong relationship. I suggest you read the end notes as well! Very informative.

Marthese reviews Band vs Band by Kathleen Jacques

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Ever wanted a regularly updated webcomic to cater for your fluffy and drama needs in the long term because short things are not the best when you get attached to the characters? You’re in luck!

Band vs Band is a cute and bright webcomic by Kathleen Jacques. For those that prefer physical copies, there is a volume of 150 pages out as well.

Band vs Band follows…you guessed it, two bands that are ‘rivals’. The first band is the Candy Hearts, fronted by Honey Hart. In Candy Hearts there are also Honey’s best friend Cherry Cola (her real surname is Kirsch! For those that know German this is a fun fact(, Coco who always hides her face and Zero who doesn’t appear so often and reminds me of Fred from Scoobie Doo with that scarf.

The second band is the Sourballs fronted by Turpentine who like Honey also plays the guitar and sings. In the band there are also Foxy, who reminds me of Luna Lovegood with her character, Atomic Domme who is the level headed, intellectual feminist in the group and Arsenic, Turpentine’s best friend since childhood who’s always hooking up with people. The Sourballs’ motto is ‘’Hedonism, Nihilism, Petty vandalism’’!

The names are fitting to their bands. The Candy Hearts are all very bubbly, idealistic and sweet and always try to teach lessons to children, take part in charity and so on. The Sourballs are trouble makers who mess with the Candy Hearts. This is especially true for Turpentine to Honey; Honey sometimes retaliates especially when it comes to drawings and letters.

Turpentine and Honey have different personalities. Honey is very sweet, bubbly and caring while Turpentine seems not to have a care in the world (though she’s secretly also caring especially towards Nick aka Arsenic and Honey). They are also rivals but there is romantic and sexual tension between the two. I mean, they share a dessert right after the first confrontation. It doesn’t take a long time for them to start looking out for each other apart from being rivals. This includes late night phone calls, trips to hell and facing impostors. The plot basically revolves around this rivalry, sweetness and simple life moments where they drive each other crazy but stick out for each other.

The two bands and the two singers often have band offs and duets. Indeed, there is a whole lot of songs in this webcomic. It’s like a musical, someone is doing something irrelevant, then someone calls for a song and bam, you have a song that’s quite catchy.

The colours in this comic are all reds, blues, whites and blacks and the typographs is very varied. Apart from short episodes, there are also side-stories of side characters, magazine pages, activity sheets that includes colouring pages, album art covers and so many other creative additions. I really liked the pages that are basically song lyrics and interpretations especially when Honey and Turpentine sing together or against each other. The ‘up next’ after each episodes are funny, so take notice of them.

Sometimes, the plot seems a bit detached as it’s not one continuous timeline but episodes after each other and sometimes there is too much extra content that you forget the main plot. If you binge read though, this shouldn’t be a problem.

Although the main plot is about Turpentine and Honey, the other characters also have their things on the side. I found all characters engaging and liked the side characters side-comics since I tend to want to know more about each character shown.

The webcomic, although not finished is updated every Monday at this URL: http://bvbcomix.com/ and I suggest if you like the premise to read it and not the afraid of the fact that it’s not finished because it’s regularly updated and there is content from years ago that you need to catch up with! I suggest starting from the about section first.

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