Shira Glassman reviews Escape To Pirate Island by Niamh Murphy

Escape to Pirate Island cover showing a woman in a flowing red dress looking over the ocean at a pirate shipEscape to Pirate Island is basically just what it says on the tin–a rambunctious, seafaring pirate adventure full of treasure maps and double-crossing, only this one stars women who wind up loving each other, getting by in a man’s world by the sheer strength of their determination, each in their own way. The book’s timeline flows well and features several of the type of vivid scenes that would make a wonderful movie.

Cat is a young smuggler whose hometown adventures are cut short by 18th century cops; Lily is the daughter of a retired pirate captain left broke by his debts when he dies. They don’t even meet until we’ve already come to know both of them pretty well, which made me more invested in both of them as characters rather than putting all the story’s weight on just their relationship arc alone.

Murphy did a great job making all the scenes come to life without making the reading feel like work–I breezed through this book in two days. This is the kind of book that puts you right into the middle of the action over and over again without making any of it hard to follow–with Cat, we climb up cliff faces, get into fights, hide underground with conspirators, and even have a job interview! (Yes, a pirate job interview is just as intimidating as it sounds.) Lily’s POV sections were less compelling for me but I was still pretty invested in her happiness as a character. She gets the rug pulled out from under her rather a lot over the course of  the book and still holds her head high, refusing to let the undertow of life take her.

I was particularly entertained and enthralled by Cat’s storyline, with her cleverness and bravado and ability to adapt to a wild variety of situations. She’s married at the beginning of the book and her husband gets fridged as part of one of the book’s many MANY action scenes, so I was expecting her to be bi (obligatory bi-rate pun) but as the book unfolds it’s explained that she married her childhood bestie to get out from under her father’s thumb, a choice which I’m sure many real women of her time would find familiar. After her sexual encounter with Lily–which only takes up a page or two so if you’re looking for an action-adventure-and-feelings-heavy book rather than one with a lot of erotica, you’ve come to the right place — she realizes that she understands desire for the first time. That to me indicates a lesbuccaneer interpretation rather than bi-rate. (Yes, I just did that.) I also admire the author’s deftness in showing that Cat’s initial dislike and assumptions of Lily in reality came from a lingering dislike for her own upbringing, a lavish lifestyle she assumed Lily was both from and still enjoying. She was humble enough to backpedal as soon as she discovers her mistake.

There are many things I was afraid would happen in this book that didn’t — I love that she has a “found-father”-figure who doesn’t die. (Grizzled, tough older men who protect young lesbians instead of acting predatory toward them are very much a trope that makes me happy.) The women are threatened with sexual assault, but it stops at words. There isn’t any ethnically diverse representation, but that’s not as bad as having overtly racist tropes which I’ve encountered before in books set around this period. And though there’s a metric fuckton of double-crossing in this book Because Pirates, the tension between Lily and Cat over Cat’s behavior never lasts long enough to hurt the reader, and Cat isn’t betrayed by as many people as she could have been.

Props for the line “whose countenance was so livid that Lily wondered if the hair from his balding crown had been terrified into quitting his head.” Also, a possibly naïve comment: I grew up in South Florida and I was a little confused about how they could be so cold after it rained, once they were in the Caribbean, because it’s the kind of warm down there — and even up here, in summertime! — where rain doesn’t leave you chilled, if that makes any sense. It feels different from other places. But then again: that’s specifically Ft. Lauderdale/Miami; I’ve only been to the Caribbean itself on cruises in my teens and I don’t think it rained while we were there so I don’t actually know. And heaven knows it’s not that important of a detail; it just took me out of the story for 2 seconds.

I think this is self-published but I only noticed two minor copyediting errors; everything flowed nicely and I feel like I had a quality reading experience. By the way, TW for some uncomfortable and only partially challenged moments of whorephobia.
Shira Glassman writes fantasy and contemporary fiction where girls get to kiss. Her latest, Knit One Girl Two, features an indie dyer who meets a cute wildlife painter while looking for inspiration for her next sock club.

JJ Taylor reviews The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

the abyss surrounds us

In a future where pirates rule the open seas, the fleets the shore are kept at bay by genetically engineered giant sea creatures bonded to their ships and guided by their trainers. You want to read The Abyss Surrounds Us. You really do. It has pirates, sea monsters, queer lady romance, lady villains, pirate queen moms, an Asian-American lead character – it’s packed with all the things you’ve been wanting in your YA. Honestly, I think most books could benefit from a good dose of lady pirates.

This is fantastic sea adventure with a queer lady romance that doesn’t pull it’s punches. The fights hurt, the romance hurts, and it’s all worth it. This sea adventure ride is full of twists and turns and they start right away.

Spoilers ahead! I’ll try not to give too much away, but it’s hard to get to the heart of this book without some spoilers.

Cassandra Leung goes through an incredible journey. At the start of the story, she’s a teen just about to go on her first mission for which she’s been trained on all her life. By the end, she’s surviving and thriving in a completely different world. She transforms into a competent, brave, skilled commander of a Reckoner, and a clever and savvy fighter. She sense of herself and where she belongs, even if it means turning her back on everything she knows.

The world of Reckoners pulled me in from the first scene. I was convinced our future could look like this, with condensed political nations in the wake of rising sea levels, flooding destroying whole portions of continents. Like all good speculative fiction, the changes in the new world don’t seem that far off a possibility from our current world.

We feel the loss of Durga, Cas’ first trainee, throughout the whole book, which is about the only way I can tolerate animal loss in a story. It was awful, don’t get me wrong, but it was awful for Cas and the loss remains raw and informs her decisions all the way through the story, even in the end. It’s not for the faint of heart, though, and there are more vicious attacks of sea monster on sea monster further into the story. Cas knows what it means to turn a Reckoner on other Reckoners, and she knows what she’s done in training Bao, the Minnow’s Reckoner, and in using him as a shield in battle. It’s an adult awareness that marks part of Cas’ growth as a character. Bao is never the quiet friend that Durga was. He’s a beast, and Cas bonds with him as she raises him, but the circumstances of their relationship were too forced, and ultimately too violent for it to last.

And that brings me to The Pirate Queen. Santa Elena is a terrifying villain. She’s not a kinder version of a pirate just because she’s a mother; she’s cruel, manipulative, calculating, and she has no qualms hurting those who hurt her. She sets Cas and the crew against one another in a myriad of ways, and delights in the outcome, even when it’s violent. She’s dangerous from start to finish.

And Swift, oh, Swift, with her bird tattoo like her name and her ship brand on the back of her neck like the sword of Damocles. I fell for Swift as hard as Cas does, but she also remained unknowable until the very end. I loved the tension of their building romance, their struggle to find one another on equal footing, and I was disappointed that the two proto-pirate queens don’t get an HEA. I had several theories while reading about how the book would end, and none of them were anywhere near being right. Cas and Swift aren’t together, but at least they’re not apart. They face nearly as many challenges as they did at the start, which has kept them on my mind days after I finished the book.

Go get The Abyss Surrounds Us. You’ll suddenly find yourself hatching escape plans for Swift and Cas, or maybe you’ll be rooting for Santa Elena. On the ship full of cutthroat lady pirates, you can’t go wrong.

Warning for animal harm/death

Rachel reviewed The Locket and the Flintlock by Rebecca S. Buck

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From Bold Strokes Books comes an unusual story of love amidst pre-Victorian England. The Locket and the Flintlock by Rebecca S. Buck starts in 1812 when Lucia Foxe, daughter of a wealthy British aristocrat, and her family are robbed by a band of thieves called Highwaymen. The thieves steal Lucia’s treasured locket and leave, but Lucia, bound and determined to get her locket back, secretly leaves home and pursues the outlaws. She soon meets their female leader, Len Hawkins, who on the surface seems vastly different from Lucia, but in reality shares a lot of common ground. The two, much to their surprise, become friends after a while, and later those feelings turn into undeniable love. But can gentlewoman Lucia and outlaw Len make a life together in a time when homosexuality was abhorred?

The Locket and the Flintlock  covers interesting topics, such as the social constraints women were faced with in the early 1800s, and how the poor barely had enough wages to live on and so many turned to a life of crime. The author did a good job highlighting these points, and the scenes where Len challenged Lucia on what society deemed “proper” rang true.

However, there were some things about the book that didn’t sit right with me. Lucia, never having been in a lesbian relationship before and unfamiliar with homosexuality, seemed to accept her feelings for Len too quickly. It felt to me that, a woman in Lucia’s time and society would have been more hesitant, afraid of being gay and done some serious soul-searching about it. But Lucia never really addressed this to herself, which I found surprising and unrealistic for the plotline.

At times, the two women’s stories were really absorbing and tense, but at others the book reiterated some of the same points which slowed the plot down. One unexpected twist felt a bit too convenient for Lucia and Len. And there were other moments in the novel that felt a little far-fetched for the characters, detracting from the story.

Though The Locket and the Flintlock wasn’t really my cup of tea, I applaud Rebecca S. Buck for all her research into the historical details of 1812 England and the last days of the highwaymen. The subject of a female highwayman isn’t touched on much, so it was refreshing to see that aspect of history acknowledged. Readers who love historical fiction, particularly in England, and women’s history should give The Locket and the Flintlock a try and see if it’s something they like.

Rachel reviews Taming the Wolff by Del Robertson

tamingthewolff

In this debut novel by Del Robertson, Taming The Wolff is a story of piracy, adventure, and love. Kris Wolff is a female pirate captain of The Wolfsbane who hides her true gender from most of her crew. She is aloof and reveals little about her past. She abducts a duchess and her two daughters for ransom. Alexis DeVale, one of the daughters, had been bound for an arranged marriage and now is captive on The Wolfsbane. She, like most others, believes Captain Wolff to be male. Kris protects her hostages from prying eyes, and though she and Alexis butt heads at first, an attraction between them is undeniable. Alexis soon discovers Kris’s secret, and wrestles with the idea of loving another woman. Meanwhile, The Wolfsbane is pursued relentlessly by naval officer Captain Jackson, who will stoop to torture and murder to obtain Kris. And during all this, Kris and Alexis must decide if they can have a future together.

Taming The Wolff gives readers insight to how being gay would be perceived in 1703, the year this book takes place. While Kris sees no problem with loving another woman, Alexis does. She was brought up in her family, society, and her church to think homosexuality was a sin. As a result, she has a hard time trying to reconcile her love for Kris. But that was a real factor back then; and still is today.

The characters of Kris and Alexis were complicated. I liked both women, but sometimes I found myself angry with them. I will not spoil the plot, but at one point, Alexis makes a sudden decision that to me seemed tacked in to the story. The explanation she gives for her action was rather unsatisfying, and I was thinking there had to be some better reason than what she was saying. When that turned out to not be the case, I was disappointed with the unexpected shift in the storyline. Also, Kris and Alexis had their arguments, like every couple. But some of the arguments seemed forced and interrupted the plot a bit. But maybe the purpose was to show how the two women were dealing with coming from two vastly different worlds and beliefs.

Those issues aside, the book had some good battle sequences and love scenes. Robertson accurately depicted the dangerous life of a pirate. There were many tense moments that had me wondering what would happen next. There were also enough twists and unexpected events to keep me reading on.

Taming The Wolff is a good book for those looking for adventure and surprises. Though not my absolute favorite, it can still be interesting and suspenseful.