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2016’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 8, 2016 2 comments

Here on Opinions of a Wolf, I accept submissions of review copies via a form between February and December.  The books I accept will then be reviewed the following year.  So, the books accepted for review here in 2016 were submitted in 2015.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 2014 and 2015 by clicking on the years.  For 2016, I decided to require authors to submit an excerpt along with their request, and I for the first time ever did not give a set number I would accept.  Instead I accepted only those books that sparked my interest. Books I would have picked up anyway browsing in a bookstore or library, a thing that is difficult for indie authors to have happen.  I basically view the submissions I receive as my own mini-bookstore of indie books.

This year there were 62 submissions. I accepted 7 books. This means I only accepted 11% of submitted books (down 5% from last year).  Put another way, each book only had a 11% chance of being accepted.

I actively pursue submissions from women and GLBTQA authors, as well as books with GLBTQA content.

Gender

As you can see, 38.7% of authors submitting to me were women.  I am disappointed to say this was not an increase from last year, in spite of my promotion efforts. Of the 7 books I accepted, 6 (86%) are written by women authors.  Now, I do not preferentially choose books by women authors. My one rule is that I must not accept more books by male than female authors. This means the male authors submitting to me really failed to wow me, as I could have accepted 6 of them but ultimately only 1 appealed to me out of 38.

GLBTQA

24.2% of authors submitting to me self-identify as GLBTQA. This is up from only 14% last year, a fact I am very happy about. Of the books I accepted, 4 (57%) were by GLBTQA authors. The GLBTQA authors really impressed me, you guys.

GLBTQA Content

Interestingly, 29% of the books submitted to me have GLBTQA content. Again, this means cis-heterosexual authors are also writing about GLBTQA issues, which I appreciate. Of the books I accepted, 4 (57%) have GLBTQA content, and no, they are not the exact same 4 that have GLBTQA authors. Authors of all gender and sexual orientations write about people of all gender and sexual orientations, and this is definitely reflected in what was submitted to me.

Genre

You can see that the overwhelming majority of the books submitted to me were a scifi (37.1%) or thriller (32.3%) with horror a close third (22.6%). At the other end of the spectrum, nonfiction GLBTQA, nonfiction health and fitness, and nonfiction cookbook all had zero submissions.  For fiction, cozies had the fewest submissions (3.2%), followed by a tie between paranormal or western romance and historical fiction with 6.5% each. Keep in mind that I let authors check off more than one genre, if their book fits in more than one.

Of the 7 accepted books, 3 are scifi, 2 urban fantasy, and 2 paranormal or western romance, along with 1 fantasy, 1 cozy, and 1 thriller.  This means that only 5% (1 out of 20) of thrillers was accepted, whereas 50% (2 out of 4) of paranormal or western romance was.

I provide these stats for two reasons.  First to give everyone an idea of the competition the accepted books were up against.  It’s an accomplishment to be accepted for review here!  Second, I want those considering submitting to me this year to look at these stats and take them into consideration when submitting.  Consider the fact that I don’t want to read only scifi all year.  If you have a nonfiction or a romance waiting to be reviewed, it has a higher chance of being accepted.  But enough stats!  It’s time to get to the accepted review copies!

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title. Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon, since I have yet to read them myself and so cannot write my own.  These books will be read and reviewed here in 2016, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

cover_blackmagic

Black Magic and Mojitos
By: A.A. Chamberlynn
Genre: Urban Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Zyan Star’s latest job is turning into a real Nightmare. Actually, a whole herd of them.

When supernatural bounty hunter Zyan Star jets down to Rio to meet a prospective client, everything goes as planned initially. That is, until she finds out the person hiring her is Raoul Cabrera, the half demon/half faery supernatural overlord of Brazil, who rubs elbows with Lucifer himself. And that he’s hired another bounty hunter, Donovan McGregor, to work with her.

Their target is a herd of Nightmares, horse spirits that torment people with visions of their worst fears before devouring their flesh. Zy and Donovan head out on the hunt, but it quickly becomes apparent that their client hasn’t given them all the facts. There’s a pissed-off, powerful witch summoning the Nightmares, and she’s out to exact some serious revenge on Raoul. Zy soon realizes she’s caught in the middle of a lover’s spat between two immensely powerful supernaturals, and it’s not clear whose side she should stand on. As if that weren’t enough, pulling off this job is going to require her to relive her worst fears and summon her own long-suppressed magical powers.

Let the supernatural Carnival begin.

Why I Accepted It:
It’s urban fantasy with evil horse spirits set in Brazil. Just typing that sentence gives me chills of excitement. And the excerpt I was given blew me away. And can I just say that cover (which I didn’t see when going through my submissions) is dynamite.

cover_cityofroses

City of Roses Season One: Autumn Into Winter
By: Kip Manley
Genre: Paranormal or Western Romance, Urban Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
City of Roses is a serialized epic very firmly set in Portland, Oregon–an urban fantasy mixing magical realism with gonzo noirish prose, where sinister high-rise riverfront condos are fought by a sprawling tea-house constructed from scrap lumber and old windows, and ancient sea-gods retire to close-in Southeast apartments with lovely views. It’s the story of Jo Maguire, a highly strung, underemployed telemarketer, and what happens when she meets Ysabel, a princess of unspecified pedigree. Jo rather unexpectedly becomes Ysabel’s guardian and caretaker, and now must make a place for herself among Ysabel’s decidedly unusual family and friends–which involves rather more sword-play than most of us are used to.

This omnibus ebook collects the full first season of the critically acclaimed serial, chapters 1 – 22, also available in volume 1, “Wake up…” , and volume 2, The Dazzle of Day.

Why I Accepted It:
It just seemed so quirky. Much like Portland. And the excerpt, again, was great.

cover_crowbox

The Crow Box (Not released yet)
By: Nikki Rae
Genre: Paranormal or Western Romance
Summary:
The small wooden box is dirty, the size of a human fist, and sealed with wax. When Corbin takes it upon herself to clean it and break the seal, a voice she has tried to ignore gathers strength. Shadows play on the walls at night, and with a family history of mental illness, Corbin fears the worst. But the voice tells her it is real. That its name is Six and it will prove it in time.
Drawn to this mysterious entity, Corbin isn’t sure what to believe and the line between reality and her imagination blurs more every day.
Some doors should not be opened; can this one be closed?


Why I Accepted It:
The combination of the eerie foreboding nature of the summary with the author’s identifying it as a paranormal or western romance intrigued me. Plus the mental illness aspect fits right in with my ongoing Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge.

cover_fairfoul.jpg

The Fair & Foul
By: Allie Potts
Genre: Scifi
Summary:
Juliane has a supercomputer for a brain and she isn’t afraid to use it. Perhaps she should be.

Juliane Faris is a brilliant programmer determined to change the world through scientific and technical advancement. Blinded by ambition, she will do whatever it takes to secure her legacy including agreeing to participate in an experimental procedure. The procedure grants her unprecedented knowledge and cellular control over her body but threatens everything she holds dear including her sanity. When others undergo the same modifications it becomes apparent that not everyone can afford the price that this technology demands

Set in the not too distant future, The Fair & Foul is earth-based science fiction dealing with the next era of human evolution. The line between humanity and technology is blurring, and what seems like magic is only a scientific discovery away.

Why I Accepted It:
I’m a sucker for anything transhumanism, and this one stars a woman.

cover_harvestfigs

A Harvest of Ripe Figs
By: Shira Glassman
Genre: Cozy, Fantasy
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Esther of the Singing Hands is Perach’s Sweetheart, a young and beautiful musician with a Girl Next Door image. When her violin is stolen after a concert in the capital city, she doesn’t expect the queen herself to show up, intent upon solving the mystery.

But Queen Shulamit–lesbian, intellectual, and mother of the six month old crown princess–loves to play detective. With the help of her legendary bodyguard Rivka and her dragon, and with the support of her partner Aviva the Chef, Shulamit turns her mind toward the solution–which she quickly begins to suspect involves the use of illegal magic that could threaten the safety of her citizens.

Why I Accepted It:
It’s a cozy starring a happily partnered lesbian plus it has a dragon. I mean, how could I not?

cover_lifefirst

Life First
By: RJ Crayton
Genre: Scifi, Thriller
Summary:
Strong-willed Kelsey Reed must escape tonight or tomorrow her government will take her kidney and give it to someone else.

In this future forged by survivors of pandemics that wiped out 80 percent of the world’s population, life is valued above all else. The government of “Life First” requires the mentally ill to be sterilized, outlaws abortions and sentences to death those who refuse to donate an organ when told.

Determined not to give up her kidney, Kelsey enlists the help of her boyfriend Luke and a dodgy doctor to escape. The trio must disable the tracking chip in her arm for her to flee undetected. If they fail, Kelsey will be stripped of everything.

Why I Accepted It:
It hits on a lot of issues I like seeing looked at in scifi — organ donation, mental illness, and reproductive rights and issues.

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Rymellan 1: Disobediece Means Death
By: Sarah Ettritch
Genre: Scifi
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
Lesley and Mo can’t imagine life without each other. If it were up to them, they’d settle down, raise daughters, and lead happy, fulfilled lives. But they live on the planet Rymel, in a strict society that selects life-mates for its citizens and executes those who violate their life-bonds. Girlfriends since their teens, Lesley and Mo know they should break up but can’t let each other go. They dread the day the state summons them to meet their selected mates. Meet Lesley and Mo when they’re young adults in love and follow them until their time together runs out. Will they do what their society expects of them, or will they sacrifice their lives for their love?

Why I Accepted It:
The blurb and excerpt were just so cute, I couldn’t resist!

 

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula’s Lost Love by Christine Frost

October 19, 2015 2 comments

Book Review: The Veiled Mirror: The Story of Prince Vlad Dracula's Lost Love by Christine FrostSummary:
Vlad the Impaler, a Wallachian prince, inspired the story of Dracula with his bloodthirsty, iron-handed ruling.  This, though, is the story of his long-time consort, Ecaterina Floari, mother one of his sons and a daughter.  She loves him deeply but is haunted by his ruling style, as well as spirits in a helmet he brings into their home from one of his battles.

Review:
I picked this up during the Smashwords Summer/Winter sale years ago but it took a while for my mood to be just right to read it.  It is a historic piece set in 1400s with splashes of the fantastic, and I tended to be in the mood for one or the other but not both.  Finally in the heat of the summer, I was ready for a dark historic fantasy that would take me away to heavy gowns and ancient rulers.  I was surprised by the level of historic research and detail in the book, as well as the tie-in to the Dracula story, making it a marriage of two genres.

This is a long book with a lot of rich setting detail.  That doesn’t tend to be my style but it works with the feel the book is going for, and many readers will enjoy the pace at which the book moves.  The dark fantasy elements take time to set up, but when they get into motion they really add to the story.  The story strikes a nice balance of Ecaterina working with the culture of her time-period and being bothered by certain things Vlad does.  For instance, it bothers her that he has mistresses, but she comes to accept it as is expected of her in the time-period.  This trajectory acknowledges the feelings the modern reader may have about the situation but also lets the character be true to her time-period.

The author toes a finely-held line of showing Vlad’s cruelty but also keeping him human and not demonizing him.  He was a cruel ruler but he wasn’t a monster.  Similarly, although Ecaterina loves him she is still disturbed by his actions when ruling.  This lends both characters depth they would not have if Ecaterina’s love was blind or Vlad was monstrous.

In spite of appreciating the historic fiction plot covering many decades, I did sometimes feel that the plot meandered a bit too much.  I also felt that sometimes the book told too much instead of showing.  Similarly, there were a few too many typos and grammatical errors for a book that is in its final version.  It was not enough to make me stop reading but it was enough to detract from my overall enjoyment of the story.

I appreciated how much of the book is from women’s perspectives.  Not just Ecaterina’s but her mother’s, servants, and other consorts and even a spy are featured.  The female cast is strong, and that would be easy for a less thoughtful writer to pass over in favor of showcasing the men history chose to record more thoroughly.

Overall, readers seeking to learn something about the 1400s in Romania will be pleased by how much they will learn reading this book.  Those who come to it due to the Dracula connection will enjoy the fantastical elements toward the end in particular.  Recommended to readers of historic fiction and fantasy who do not mind a long book with a slow burn.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Smashwords

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September Updates and August Reflections

September 1, 2015 2 comments
A lovely pond my fiancé and I rested near on one of our hikes.

A lovely pond my fiancé and I rested near on one of our hikes.

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you enjoyed the variety of genres on the blog this month.  I know I enjoyed reading them!  I also just wanted to let you know not to expect a huge influx of product reviews.  I at most will have one a month, and then only if I’ve won an item from another blog (I like to give them the links back as a thank you) or if I receive an item for review.  Again, though, I will keep it to one a month at most.

The book of the month for September will be:

The Lady in the Lake by Raymond Chandler
First reviewed in September 2011
“Marlowe is someone whose presence it is always worth being in, regardless of whether his surroundings are perfect or not.  I recommend this to noir fans, highly.”

How was my reading, reviewing, and writing this month?

August books read: 4 (1 historic urban fantasy, 2 ya dystopian scifi, 1 historic fantasy)

August reviews: 7

Other August posts: 1 product review

Most popular post in August written in August: Product Review: Squatty Potty

My favorite post of August: Book Review: Anarchism and Other Essays by Emma Goldman. I really enjoyed the discussion in the comments of this review.  It was a difficult review to write, and I was really glad it stirred such a positive response!

Most popular post in August written at any time: Book Review: The Time Machine by H. G. Wells (Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge)

August writing: I put my writing energy into the blog this month, as well as my reading.  This was intentional, as I was very limited on time, and I wanted my blog in tip top shape before fall.

Coming up in September: I have a 2015 ARC with a giveaway to post, as well as reviews for the reads named above.  For the first time in years, I won’t be participating in the R.eaders I.mbibing P.eril challenge.  Instead, I chose to participate in the Once Upon a Time fantasy challenge in the spring.  But I encourage you all to consider participating in R.I.P. X!

Happy September and happy reading!

Book Review: Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (Series, #4)

August 8, 2015 Leave a comment

Book Review: Late Eclipses by Seanan McGuire (Series, #4)Summary:
One of Toby’s oldest friends is in dire trouble.  Lily of the Tea Gardens is slowly fading away, and no one knows what’s causing it.  On top of that, one of Toby’s worst nemeses whose name is feared throughout Fae, Oleander, is back.  Are the two related or is something else going on? And can Toby save the day without losing herself?

Review:
I picked this book up expecting it to be another mystery of the week entry in the series, but what I found was a surprising development in the overarching plot that kept my heart in my throat but also left me dubious about the possible directions the next book could take.

The plot starts out similarly to the previous entry in the series.  Someone close to Toby is in danger.  In this case, it’s Lily, and she’s sick, slowly fading out of existence.  Over the course of the book, others close to Toby end up sick as well, as it soon becomes clear (this is really not a spoiler, it’s revealed early on) that someone is poisoning them.  When Oleander showed up, I nearly groaned at how obvious it felt that she is the one to blame for all of this.  But it’s not quite that straight-forward, and there’s also a sub-plot of Toby possibly going crazy….which changelings are known to do in this world.  The book then isn’t just about Toby trying to solve the mystery, it’s also about her trying to determine if her blood has doomed her to sink into insanity.  This gives the plot enough depth to keep it interesting.

Long-standing characters receive more depth of character development and new ones are added.  Toby cotinues to have the wit that keeps the book upbeat even when things are grim.  One quote in particular I think would work pretty well as a fitspo positive argument:

I promised myself that if I lived, I’d start working out. Better cranky and alive than cheerful and dead. (loc 1815)

As for the plot twist, I can’t talk about it much without spoilers.  The spoiler free review would be that I am concerned the big overarching plot twist moves things a bit too far into one hero to save us land, which isn’t a fantasy plot I personally usually enjoy.  For the spoiler version of this, see the next paragraph.

*spoilers*
It is revealed that Toby is not the type of Fae she thought, she is rather a very rare type of Fae.  This type of Fae is capable of changing the make-up of their own blood.  She can thus morph into more Fae, changeling, or human as she desires.  It also turns out her mother is from the first born, which makes her kind of Fae royalty.  My issue with this is one of the things I like so much about the series is that Toby lacks the magical powers to the extent the Fae have.  She also doesn’t fit into the human world.  But she fights for her right to be in the world she chooses to live in, and her value in the Fae world is due to how hard she tries and her brains, not her blood.  This plot development feels like it’s making it all about her blood.  Her power is due to whose daughter she is, not who she herself is.  That’s just not a message I’m as fond of.
*end spoilers*

Overall, this is an action-packed entry in the series that visits another mystery with enough different sub-plots and twists to keep it interesting.  Fans of the series will be surprised by the big overarching plot development toward the end of the book and will be eager to pick up the next one to see where this plot development goes.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Previous Books in Series:
Rosemary and Rue, review
A Local Habitation, review
An Artificial Night, review

Book Review: Fated by S.G. Browne

July 17, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: Fated by S.G. BrowneSummary:
Fabio is not a fan of his job as Fate.  He never gets to actually influence the idiotic humans in his charge (everyone off the path of Destiny).  He just gets to show up at the moment of their fateful decisions.  Falling in love with a human (who just so happens to be on the path of Destiny) breaks rule #1, and once you break one rule, you may as well break others…. Soon, Fabio is interfering in his charges’ fateful decisions, but just how long can he do this without causing havoc and escaping Jerry’s (God’s) notice?

Review:
I remember I first acquired this because I really enjoyed Browne’s other novel, Breathers: A Zombie’s Lament (review).  Although this book uses a similar irreverent tune, it just doesn’t work out as well given the content.  Add in a few writing quirks and an ending that made me simultaneously scratch my head and go ewww, this just didn’t work for me.

The first thing that bothered me about the book is a quirk Fabio (our narrator) has to describe each and every character we encounter in the following way: “The thing about [name] is, s/he is [character flaw].”  It’s cutesie the first few times.  By the twentieth time it’s irritating and by the thirtieth you’re kind of wondering what the heck is wrong with Fabio that he’s been alive for this many thousands of years and still can’t seem to come up with a more creative way to talk.

The book’s mythology firmly asserts that Christianity is right.  Although there’s a mysterious aside about how the Greek/Roman mythological gods and goddesses did exist but stopped being important once people stopped believing in them.  So, in spite of Jerry and all of his servants all asserting that Jesus is the Son of God and Christianity is right, there’s also this idea that something else once existed when people believed in it.  There is also an immortal character of Karma, who we are told exists mostly because of the many people in India who believe in him.  You can probably spot the problem with these co-existing ideas.  If immortal ideas/people exist because of belief, why would the only ones in existence be the Christian God and Karma, currently?  There are clearly other religions in the world that people currently believe in, so…….My issue isn’t with the author choosing to assert that the Christian God is the one that is true in this world (although some readers might be bothered by it).  My issue is that the book simultaneously does this and says that other gods/ideas can exist with belief, but then limits these to only ancient Greek/Roman gods and goddesses and modern-day Karma. This doesn’t work within the logic of the world that the author set up.  It really bugged me.

There is also the problem that the immortal characters (well, and the human ones, but let’s focus on the immortal ones) are divided up in a very gender normative way.  Destiny, Lust, and Lady Luck, Secrecy, and Honesty are all women.  Sloth, Gluttony, Death, Fate, Karma, oh yeah and GOD are all men.  Lust is an overwrought caricature of the evil temptress woman.  Honesty is basically the most feminine innocent woman you could meet.  It’s the classic virgin/whore dichotomy (oh and don’t forget the Virgin Mary, who’s also obviously mentioned quite a bit).  It’s not exactly better for the men, being stuck with either being a lazy slob, someone who violently kills everyone, or Fate himself.  Even if the reader is personally ok with gender normativity, this collection of characters is just expected and dull.  There’s nothing that really throws the reader a curveball or strikes as creative.  Right down to God going by the name Jerry and having a bureaucratic office in the sky.

Then we have the human who Fabio falls in love with, who is basically the manic pixie dream girl (a female character who exists only to show up and show a depressed male character the meaning of life.  Full exploration of this trope), which I’ve talked about before in other reviews (not surprisingly in books by men set in fantastical settings and that are supposed to be funny, but I digress).  Just like with gender normativity, this trope is just lazy.  The only motivator to the male character (who is first person and depressed and dull) is for a magical woman to show up and fix his life (often while her own gets ruined).  There’s no real characterization of the female character, and frankly it undersells the male character too.  This book takes it a whole step further.  The spoiler paragraph below goes into more depth about the problematic treatment of women in the book.

*spoilers*
Sara, the manic pixie dream girl, shows up and Fabio falls in love with her.  She falls in love with him too.  Fabio reveals to her who he is.  She loves him anyway.  They’re very happy together.  Fabio finds out that Sara is on the path of Destiny because she’s supposed to be the mother of the second Son of God. So God is going to show up and bang his girlfriend at some point.  He is very upset about this.  God finds out about Fabio both telling a human who he is and interfering with human fates and punishes him by both turning him mortal and wiping him from Sara’s memory.  Sara believes that Fabio was a one-night stand.  Fabio proceeds to stalk her, forcing her to get a restraining order, which he then violates.  It’s unclear if this is supposed to be seen as romantic, exactly, but it is clear that the reader is supposed to empathize with Fabio.  Sara wouldn’t really want him to stay away from her if she just understood, which is problematic because of how it mirrors the logic of many stalkers.  It gets worse though.  Fabio in despair throws himself off a bridge, committing suicide.  He then comes to realizing that he has been reformed as the fetus inside Sara’s uterus–the result of the one-night stand between her and God. He is the second Son of God.  And he’s ok with this because he at least gets to be close to Sara.  So Sara doesn’t just exist purely as a prop for Fabio’s character development, she’s also the woman who is banged once and thrown away by God to be forced to bring his second Son into the world who also just so happens to be the same dude as her ex-lover she has the restraining order against.  It’s just so many levels of denying women any agency or rights or treating women as anything but passive vessels to be used by men and male gods however they want that it just made my head explode with rage when I read it.  Most of this what the fuckery occurs in the last couple of chapters.
*end spoilers*

This is a book whose idea I felt had promise but the directions the author chose to take it just ruined it for me.  Readers who won’t be bothered by a book with logical inconsistencies, gender normative representations of immortals, and the problematic characterizations and plots for women may enjoy the book for its irreverent humor about fate and destiny.  Any readers who would be bothered by those things, though, should steer clear.

2 out of 5 stars

Source: PaperBackSwap

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Counts For:
Bottom of TBR Pile Challenge

Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Julia Whelan)

July 14, 2015 3 comments

Book Review: Love in the Time of Global Warming by Francesca Lia Block (Series, #1) (Audiobook narrated by Julia Whelan)Summary:
Pen’s life was destroyed when an Earthshaker took away her family (even their dog) and destroyed the Los Angeles she once knew.  She’s now on a quest to save them from the monstrous giants that rose up after (or with?) the Earthshaker.  Along the way she finds other teens who’ve miraculously survived, each with secrets and talents of their own.

Review:
This book left me completely torn.  I loved, oh how I loved, the representation of both bisexual (Pen) and trans (Hex, her boyfriend) teens. But the story to go with these teens failed to live up to both these wonderful characters and the beautiful title.

Let’s talk about the good first, because I don’t want it to be overshadowed by what didn’t work.  Pen is a bookish teenager who generally prefers to stay in reading the Encyclopedia or The Odyssey to going out to parties. But she still has two close friends. She’s not a loner.  She’s brave, open, loving, and sometimes makes rather short-sighted decisions.  And it is gradually revealed throughout the book that she is also bisexual.  The scenes exploring Pen’s bisexuality, and how it’s hard for her to be out about it, in spite of being completely comfortable with herself, are wonderfully done.  Pen acknowledges that even though her parents have always told her that it doesn’t matter a whit if she is straight, lesbian, bisexual, or trans, that the world at large doesn’t always think that, and that’s part of what makes being out hard for her.  The world is not always the welcoming place her family is.

The book early on establishes that Pen currently has a crush on a boy, so the reader may perhaps be surprised when she reminisces about an earlier crush on a girl, and how she first realized she liked girls too.

Thinking of how I once kissed Moira on the lips. We were drunk and dancing, and our lips just brushed for that electroshock nanosecond, and then she smiled at some boys who were watching us, laughed, and danced away from me like it was a joke.  But I’d had an epiphany, even though I hadn’t fully accepted it at the time. I wanted to kiss girls. And it was no joke. (loc 2:14:53)

Similarly, Pen struggles with self-editing her past when telling Hex about her life before the Earthshaker.  She is not sure if he’ll understand or accept the fact that she’s perfectly capable of having crushes on girls as well as boys like himself, so she edits herself when speaking to him.  She’s telling him a story about a party she didn’t go to, and the picture that her friends sent her of a boy with her friend, Moira:

I went to sleep staring at the last image wondering not what his mouth tasted like but hers. This part, this last, I don’t tell Hex, although I trust him enough to tell him anything. Don’t I? So I’m not sure why I don’t. Because I don’t want him to know I had a crush on a girl? Or because I have a crush on him. (loc 1:39:44)

It’s rare to see a book explore so eloquently what it is to be bisexual, and these feelings Pen has while not universal still explore the difficulty of coming out and being out as a bisexual person, and they were so wonderful to see in a book that I had to restrain myself from jumping up and shouting “Yes!” when they showed up on my audiobook on the bus.

Similarly, Hex, Pen’s love interest and eventual boyfriend (this is not a spoiler, when Hex shows up he may as well have a giant neon “future boyfriend” sign over his head), is a FTM transman.  Hex is just as nervous about being out to Pen and their other travel companions as Pen is about being out to him, probably more.  Being cis myself, I can’t say as definitively about the quality of FTM representation as I could about bisexuality, however, the author certainly tries to broach topics that I believe would be of interest to a trans YA reader reading this book: acceptance (or not) by family members and impact on romantic relationships with other teens.  Hex comes out to Pen as a transman only because she has fallen for him, and he wants her to know precisely who he is before anything more *ahem* romantic happens.  Pen immediately accepts him and tells him he is clearly a boy to her, and this changes nothing about how she feels about him.  They then have to navigate their sex life.  Hex, like many trans people, is uncomfortable with his body.  He would rather touch Pen than allow Pen to touch him.  Eventually, they reach an arrangement that both supports and asserts Hex’s maleness and allows Pen to give the pleasure back to him that she wants to.  I was glad to see a YA book “go there.”  I frankly haven’t seen much of that even in adult literature including a trans person.  It both addresses the “how do they….” question some YA readers would certainly have after learning about Hex and also serves a purpose in the story to demonstrate a mature, healthy, loving relationship between the two characters.

In addition to Hex and Pen, they also wind up with two male travel companions who become a couple.  The characters themselves point out at one point how odd it is that the minority before the Earthshakers is now the majority (none of them are straight AND cis).  I was glad the author acknowledged the quirk and had the characters process why that may be.  The answer they decide upon is a positive one, rather than the potentially negative one of punishment.

So now let’s talk about what didn’t work.  The plot and the setting.  The book is meant to be a magical realism style story told in a non-linear way.  This could have worked if in the end the overarching plot, when reassessed by the reader from beginning to end, made sense.  But it doesn’t.  For most of the book, Pen refers to everything in fantastical ways, such as saying “Earthshaker” for what appears to the reader to be an earthquake.  Why is she saying “Earthshaker”? Was there something different about it?  Does she just like prettying up her language? What is going on with that?  Later it is revealed that an earthquake seems to have happened when some genetically engineered giants escaped (showed up? were released?).  The whole world basically goes to shit overnight, though, and it just doesn’t seem logical that that would happen from just a few giants escaping.  Similarly, there are other fantastical creatures who are never explained.

Similarly, although it is indicated early on that this is a modern retelling of The Odyssey, it doesn’t line up well with the original.  In the original, Odysseus is trying to come home after a war and keeps getting swept into side-quests.  In this book, Pen starts out at home and then quests away from home.  It would have made more sense for Pen to be somewhere away from home (maybe on a school trip or something), have the disaster occur, and then have her have to find her way home encountering fantastical things along the way.  Starting her at home just doesn’t work.

Several elements feel like they are just thrown in because they look pretty or work with the scene even though they don’t work with the book as a whole.  For instance, butterflies appearing around people who can be trusted pops up in the middle of the book, but isn’t particularly present at the beginning or the end.  Similarly, some characters are revealed to have magical powers toward the end of the book, with no foreshadowing about that, only to have them….not use them much beyond the scene where it’s revealed.

Also, I’m sorry, but the whole some evil scientist genetically engineered giants to be his children and now the giants are out to destroy us but also the whole world inexplicably now resembles a myth just really doesn’t work.  First, it makes no sense why a scientist would even want to engineer a giant.  To be his children? Really? Why would anyone want giant children?  Second, to give the mystical elements that started this whole thing a scientific explanation but then leave the rest fantastical doesn’t work.  Either they’re all explained by science or they’re all fantastical.  I really felt the book went way downhill for me when there was suddenly a “scientific” explanation for the giants. But just the giants and nothing else.

Finally, we need to talk about the name of the book.  It’s a beautiful title but it’s really wasted on this book.  First, global warming doesn’t come into play in the book at all, so why is it mentioned in the title?  Second, it’s clearly a send-up to Love in the Time of Cholera, but it has nothing in common with that book save both having elements of magical realism in them.  It feels as if the author came up with a title that sounded pretty and couldn’t bring herself to let go of it in spite of it not fitting the book she actually wrote.

Overall, this is a short read featuring four well-rounded and written teen characters on the LGBTQ spectrum.  YA readers looking for positive representations of bisexual and trans characters, in particular, and who don’t mind some inexplicable fantasy elements will enjoy this quick read.  Readers who will easily be bothered by the title not matching the content, a mixture of magical realism and scientific explanations for things, and/or nonlinear plots that when told linearly don’t make sense should probably look elsewhere, in spite of the positive representations of underrepresented letters in the LGBTQ spectrum.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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Book Review: Everlasting: Da Eb’Bulastin by Rasheedah Prioleau

July 11, 2015 3 comments

cover_everlastingSummary:
Aiyana Gamelle has been sleepwalking, waking up on the beach of the half Gullah, half Native American Sa’Fyre Island off the coast of South Carolina.  But she knows she’ll soon be transitioning to being Queen of the Gullah half of the island, due to being directly descended from both the founders and a mysterious African goddess, so she brushes it off and focuses on the festival she’s organized on the island to bring in more revenue.  But when an important island guest is murdered and her grandmother passes away before the official crowning ceremony, an unwanted family curse is slowly revealed.

Review:
This is one of the six indie books I accepted for review on this blog in 2015.  Everything about it from the title to the description stuck out to me both as something that I hadn’t seen a mainstream publisher get around to trying in many years and also as something that piqued my interest.  An island that’s half Gullah and half Native American? (Never heard of the Gullah? Check out this informative article about them).  A woman inheriting a position of power from another woman? A family curse? Yes please!  I am happy to say that the book more than lived up to my expectations, it also had some unexpected elements that I was delightfully surprised by.

The known history of the island and the Gamelle family is well told early in the book.  It comes through in bits and pieces at just the right times.  There is never an info dump.  Similarly, Aiyana and her siblings are slowly revealed, going from how you may first perceive them to more well-rounded characters throughout the book.  The island and the people on it are incredibly well described.  I had no trouble imagining what this island may be like, despite having never been to the Carolinas myself.

One thing that caught me by surprise in the book and that I think should be promoted more in its promotional materials, as it’s something that is often sought after, is the romance between Aiyana (who is half-Native American and half-Gullah, since her mother dated her Native American father against the wishes of both sides) and one of the Native American men on the island.  It’s an inter-racial relationship….with no white people.  I can’t remember the last time I saw that in a book, frankly, and I was happy to see it.

This is primarily a mystery/horror book though, so let’s talk about the mystery plot.  It takes many twists and turns, none of which I expected but all of which ultimately made sense.  I found it at times grotesque and at other times it kept me on the edge of my seat.  All the time I was always rooting for Aiyana, which is exactly what I generally want out of a mystery.

One negative I would say is that it’s a bit unclear if the book is the first in a series or a standalone.  Amazon mentions it being the first in a series, but neither the GoodReads record nor the page about it on the author’s website mention it being the start of a series.  If it is the start of a series, the book’s slightly abrupt ending works.  If it’s a standalone, then I would want a bit more closure at the end.  If it is the start of a series, then I’d say perhaps a quick “Look for more Sa’Fyre Island adventures coming soon!” at the end would be an excellent addition to help the reader know to expect more and to keep them coming back.

Overall, this is both a fun and a quite different entry into the mystery genre.  A Gullah woman takes the center stage of the mystery, rather than being a prop. The mystery is well crafted and told, and there’s even the bonus of a bit of romance in the book.  Recommended for readers looking for a completely different mystery from what they may be used to reading and who don’t mind a bit of the fantastical showing up in the plot.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Kindle copy from author in exchange for my honest review

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