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Book Review: An Accident of Stars by Foz Meadows (Series, #1)

26225506Summary:
When Saffron Coulter stumbles through a hole in reality, she finds herself trapped in Kena, a magical realm on the brink of civil war.

There, her fate becomes intertwined with that of three very different women: Zech, the fast-thinking acolyte of a cunning, powerful exile; Viya, the spoiled, runaway consort of the empire-building ruler, Vex Leoden; and Gwen, an Earth-born worldwalker whose greatest regret is putting Leoden on the throne. But Leoden has allies, too, chief among them the Vex’Mara Kadeja, a dangerous ex-priestess who shares his dreams of conquest.

Pursued by Leoden and aided by the Shavaktiin, a secretive order of storytellers and mystics, the rebels flee to Veksh, a neighboring matriarchy ruled by the fearsome Council of Queens. Saffron is out of her world and out of her depth, but the further she travels, the more she finds herself bound to her friends with ties of blood and magic.

Can one girl – an accidental worldwalker – really be the key to saving Kena? Or will she just die trying?

Review:
A fantasy written from a queer, female perspective that explores race and social justice featuring the common trope of multiple parallel worlds.

The basic plot is an intertwining of two common to fantasy: 1) there’s multiple parallel worlds 2) political intrigue warring societies etc… These are both done to a level I appreciate. They make sense without overwhelming me with world building and pages of explanations of how a society that doesn’t really exist works.

Both of these basic plots are used to explore queer viewpoints, feminism, and race, all through the lens of social justice. How much you’ll enjoy this lens depends upon the reader. I think the queer part is fairly well-done with a broad representation including: bisexual (by name!), lesbian, trans*, and polyamory. I’m not big on polyamory plots but I thought its inclusion in a parallel world made sense and was clearly not written from a perspective intended to purely titillate, rather, the emotional aspects of these relationships was explored. I do think the explorations of race lacked some of the subtlety present in the explorations of queerness. The white Australian girl being thrust into a parallel world where the majority race is black who is guided by another “worldwalker” who similarly fell through but decided to stay because she’s black and this world is better than Thatcher’s England struck me as a bit heavy-handed and overly simplistic. I’m also not sure how I felt about the black character being put into a secondary role as guide. I kept finding myself thinking how I would have preferred to have read her story. (You quickly find out she stayed in the world, gained some power, joined a polyamorous marriage, had a child, and more! What an interesting life!)

All of that said, I don’t often enjoy traditional style non-urban fantasy, and this one did keep me reading and interested. It’s fun to read a book about political intrigue and multiple worlds dominated by women, touched by dragons, and with no male gaze. I doubt I will seek out the second entry in the series, though, because I feel I’ve already got everything out of the story I’m going to get.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: NetGalley

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Book Review: Run by Kody Keplinger

February 5, 2017 Leave a comment

Book Review: Run by Kody KeplingerSummary:
Bo Dickinson is a girl with a wild reputation, a deadbeat dad, and a mama who’s not exactly sober most of the time. Everyone in town knows the Dickinsons are a bad lot, but Bo doesn’t care what anyone thinks.

Agnes Atwood has never gone on a date, never even stayed out past ten, and never broken any of her parents’ overbearing rules. Rules that are meant to protect their legally blind daughter—protect her from what, Agnes isn’t quite sure.

Despite everything, Bo and Agnes become best friends. And it’s the sort of friendship that runs truer and deeper than anything else.

So when Bo shows up in the middle of the night, with police sirens wailing in the distance, desperate to get out of town, Agnes doesn’t hesitate to take off with her. But running away and not getting caught will require stealing a car, tracking down Bo’s dad, staying ahead of the authorities, and—worst of all—confronting some ugly secrets.

Review:
This book would have wound up as a Disappointing Reads Haiku except that I actually didn’t have high expectations for it going in. The description didn’t appeal to me that much, and I had a feeling I might feel lukewarm about it. So why did I read it? I heard one of the two girls was bisexual, and hurting as I am for bisexual literature (it’s hard to find just from book descriptions), I’m willing to give most of it a shot if it sounds even moderately appealing. I do like stories of unlikely friendships and representation of less than ideal parenting situations (the realistic kind, not the fantasy kind of conveniently dead parents). I also liked the representation of not just bisexuality but also someone who is legally blind. I found the writing to be clunky, though, and the ultimate plotline to be a bit puzzling, rather than moving.

Agnes is written better than Bo. The depictions of her over-protective parents, what it is to be legally blind but not 100% blind, how others treat her, particularly in her church as an angel and not as a regular person, these were all great. The author is herself legally blind, and you can really tell. I’ve read many books about blind characters by people who were not themselves blind and the depiction was nowhere near as realistic as in this book. I think it speaks a lot to why own voices literature matters.

This realism doesn’t come through in Bo though. Bo reads like a two-dimensional caricature with the quick correction that oh hey I know I’ll make her bisexual but not a slut and that makes her seem sensitively written. Bo whose family is known in the small town as the trouble-makers, the no-goods. Bo with rumors spread about her and no-good drug-addict mom. Bo who, unlike Agnes, doesn’t speak mainstream English but mostly just in the sense that she says “ain’t” a lot. Bo who’s terrified of foster care so runs when her mom is arrested again. What bothers me the most about Bo (this may be a minor spoiler) is the book seems to think it gives her a happy ending. Like everything is ok now. But it’s clearly not. Speaking as a bisexual woman who had a less than ideal living situation in rural America in her teens, nothing about Bo strikes me as realistic. She reads as fake. She sounds fake. Some of her actions themselves are realistic but there’s no soul behind them. It might not have stuck out so badly if Agnes hadn’t been so well-written or perhaps if I wasn’t able to relate to well to who Bo was supposed to be.

One of the lines that I think demonstrates this problem that I couldn’t stop re-reading is below. It should have made me happy because Bo actually says the word “bisexual.” (Very rare in literature). But I was just irritated at how fake it all sounded.

“So … you’re all right with it, then? Me being … bisexual, I guess? I ain’t never used that word before, but … you’re all right with it?” (loc 2359)

It bothers me on two levels. First, rural people don’t just decorate their sentences with ain’t’s and double negatives. There’s more nuance to the accent than that and also Agnes and her average blue collar parents would have the same accent as Bo (they don’t). Second, I’ve never in my life heard a bisexual person speak about themselves this way, and I certainly never have. The number of times Bo asks Agnes if she’s “ok with it” (this is not the first time) is unrealistic. You know as soon as you come out if someone is “ok with it” or not and you deal and react to that. You don’t just keep wondering. You know. No amount of inexperience coming out would make you not know.

If Bo had been written as powerfully as Agnes, this would be a very different review, but since that’s not the case I have to say my dislike of the representation of Bo paired with my like of the representation of Agnes left this an average read for me, and it certainly won’t be a piece of bi literature I’ll go around recommending.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah Moskowitz

January 26, 2017 Leave a comment

Book Review: Not Otherwise Specified by Hannah MoskowitzSummary:
Etta is tired of dealing with all of the labels and categories that seem so important to everyone else in her small Nebraska hometown.

Everywhere she turns, someone feels she’s too fringe for the fringe. Not gay enough for the Dykes, her ex-clique, thanks to a recent relationship with a boy; not tiny and white enough for ballet, her first passion; and not sick enough to look anorexic (partially thanks to recovery). Etta doesn’t fit anywhere— until she meets Bianca, the straight, white, Christian, and seriously sick girl in Etta’s therapy group. Both girls are auditioning for Brentwood, a prestigious New York theater academy that is so not Nebraska. Bianca seems like Etta’s salvation, but how can Etta be saved by a girl who needs saving herself?

Review:
Etta is a character I wish I had been able to find in fiction when I was a teenager. She’s unashamedly herself, even when it hurts or it involves some floundering. She’s from a small town with dreams of the big city. She just doesn’t fit in her small town. She is so very real because she is so many intersectional elements at once. Most important to me is that she’s bisexual (and she actually SAYS the word), but she’s also female, black, and suffering from Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified (EDNOs), where the name of the book comes from.

What’s so great though is that, even with being all of these things, her main point of conflict actually has nothing to do with any of them. She desperately wants to live in NYC, and she sees a contest to get into a musical theater high school in NYC as just the chance to do that. She has a huge dream, and that is something any YA reader can relate to. So even if the reader happens to not relate to Etta on anything else (and honestly, who cares? kids like Etta have to reach really hard to relate to most of the literature out there so it’s about time the mainstream kids have to as well), but even if they don’t relate to her on anything else, they should be able to relate to her on this adolescent experience of The Big Dream.

I loved that Etta is allowed to be the person she is without speaking for All Bisexuals™. She very clearly presents herself as a bisexual person who is not representative of all bisexual people beyond the being attracted to more than one gender thing. I also appreciated that the complexity of the queer community is shown. Etta talks about being pushed into being an outsider by both the straights and the lesbians because both of them kind of just want her to “pick a side.” The book begins with the lesbians being angry at Etta for dating a boy. They’re acting like she was a “fake lesbian,” and this is how Etta feels about that:

And bi the way, I was never a lesbian, and I told the Dykes that all the time, but there isn’t a Banjo Bisexuals group or whatever. (location 54)

While a lot of the book eloquently deals with Etta’s sexuality, it also takes time to talk about race and racism. I lost the highlighted passage but essentially Etta is talking with a friend and discusses how hard it is to be part of so many minority groups and how she can never hide being black but she can hide being queer, and how that means she can never escape racism. On the other hand, she also points out how exhausting it can be to constantly be reminding people of her queerness. No one denies that she’s black but people keep trying to take her bisexual identity from her. It’s a non-preachy passage that introduces the complexities of intersexuality to a YA audience.

Finally, there’s the EDNOS. The best part about this is the book come in when Etta is in recovery. Most books about eating disorders come in during the downward spiral, but Etta has already gone to treatment and is working in recovery. We so often don’t get to see recovery and how messy it can be in literature, but we see it here. We get to see how mental illnesses don’t just go away, people just have strategies for staying in recovery.

There’s a ton that’s good about this book, but I must say that I did think the level of partying could sometimes be a bit over the top. While obviously not all kids are straight-edged I was a bit skeptical of the level of partying going on in Small Town USA (including high schoolers getting into a gay bar repeatedly). Perhaps what struck me as a bit less realitic, actually, was Etta’s intelligent and put-together mother who is clearly caring being somehow out of touch about the partying going on, whereas Etta’s sister is 100% aware. It wasn’t enough to truly bother me and I do think on some level some YA readers expect an unrealistic set of partying situations just for the interest level but in a book that had so much realistic about it, it just struck me as a bit out of place.

Overall, this is a great addition to contemporary YA with an out and proud main character and a timeless plot of a small town girl with big dreams. I requested it at my library to be added to the collection (and they did!), and if you can’t buy it yourself, I highly recommend you doing so as well. It bring so much different to the YA table.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Counts For: Mental Illness Advocacy Reading Challenge #miarc
Specific Illness –> EDNOS

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)

December 18, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Mermaid in Chelsea Creek by Michelle Tea (Series, #1)Summary:
Everyone in the broken-down town of Chelsea, Massachussetts, has a story too worn to repeat—from the girls who play the pass-out game just to feel like they’re somewhere else, to the packs of aimless teenage boys, to the old women from far away who left everything behind. But there’s one story they all still tell: the oldest and saddest but most hopeful story, the one about the girl who will be able to take their twisted world and straighten it out. The girl who will bring the magic.

Could Sophie Swankowski be that girl? With her tangled hair and grubby clothes, her weird habits and her visions of a filthy, swearing mermaid who comes to her when she’s unconscious, Sophie could be the one to uncover the power flowing beneath Chelsea’s potholed streets and sludge-filled rivers, and the one to fight the evil that flows there, too. Sophie might discover her destiny, and maybe even in time to save them all.

Review:
I feel like if you’re a queer person in New England, you’ve heard of this book. A magical realism read featuring queer characters and a diverse cast set not in Boston but in the nearby town of Chelsea. Its art is gorgeous, and I’ve spotted print versions of it in every single local bookstore. The locals are proud of this book, that’s for sure. With everything I’d heard and the pictures I’d seen when flipping through print copies, I was expecting something a bit different from what I got. Maybe more queer content? Maybe magical rules based in the here rather than in the “old world”? Regardless, I enjoyed it. It just wasn’t what I was expecting.

First, let’s talk about my favorite thing which was how much the author evokes the reality of the place of run-down New England towns in spite (or because of?) the magical content. My skin prickled when I read about Sophie and her best friend going to Revere Beach in the summer. It was just so damn accurate. I had a similar sensation when she talked about the feeling of being in a town that was once booming and now is struggling. There’s no doubt about it, the New England towns that were once booming from manufacturing and are now struggling simply feel dirty, and the author really evokes that. (I should know; I grew up in one). Oddly enough, this magical realism book brings out the feeling of small town struggling New England life more than a lot of realistic fiction I’ve read. If you want to know what it feels like to grow up in one of those towns, read this book.

Second, there’s the magical content. I was expecting something steeped in the local as well, but instead the magic was based entirely in countries parents and grandparents emigrated from. There’s nothing bad about that, it just wasn’t what I was expecting from a book so steeped in place. I also must admit that I found the whole vibe of “magic can only come from other places” to be a bit disappointing. America may be a young nation, but we have our own magic. I’d have liked to have seen a mix of both, rather than the magic be exlusively the domain of immigration.

Third, there’s the queer content. I think I was expecting it to take a more central role, particularly since this is ya (and was talked about a lot in the LGBTQ book reading community) but actually I found it to be more like how the local PCP just so happens to be Asian-American. It’s a thing some people just happen to be and not much is made of that. That’s not a bad thing, again, it just wasn’t what I was expecting.

Overall, this is a fun read steeped in local flavor that I recommend to anyone seeking a fantastical twist on struggling New England town life. That said, the second book in the series promises a journey to Europe, and personally what I liked best about this book was the local flavor, so I don’t think I’ll be continuing along.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Library

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Book Review and Giveaway: A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira Glassman (Series, #3)

December 4, 2016 2 comments

Book Review: A Harvest of Ripe Figs by Shira GlassmanSummary:
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.

Review:
When this was submitted to me as a possible review copy for 2016, I was immediately intrigued by a queer fantasy cozy. Often LGBTQ books can land too much in the “issues” genre or the romance genre. This is a place where indie books excel. Traditional publishing can be a bit hesitant to offer up any other genre with queer people at the center, but indie books know that there is a demand for this. LGBTQ people read all genres, why shouldn’t our books represent that? After I read this book I wanted to advertise it from the rooftops for precisely that audience — LGBTQ people who just want to see themselves represented in their favorite genre of literature.

If you’ve ever wanted a cozy fantasy series where the main characters just so happen to be queer, this is the series for you. And don’t worry about reading out of order if you happen to start with this one. In traditional cozy fashion, each tale is perfectly capable of standing on its own, and you can read them in whatever order you like.

The one thing I would say for cozy readers is while most of this book is traditionally cozy (not too violent of a mystery, a lovely town you’d love to visit) the sex in it is more explicit than what is traditionally found in a cozy. Rather than fading to black we get some light (very light) sex scenes. I enjoyed these scenes but readers who don’t expect that in a cozy should be aware.

In addition to there being multiple queer characters, not to just one, (lesbian, bisexual, gender nonconforming, trans), feminism is also a natural part of the read. Women are in positions of power without giving up their femininity or other life choices, such as having a baby. Sometimes Shulamit, the queen, can verge into a bit preachy, but I felt that was acceptable since she is a queen, after all, and rulers have a tendency to be preachy.

In addition to the diverse cast with a strong female presence, this fantasy land is centered around Judaism and what I believe to be a Middle Eastern inspired area. It’s a non-medieval Europe fantasy, and we all know how hard those are to find. While I am not Jewish myself, I have close friends who are, and I know how hard it can be for them at times to feel that their culture isn’t represented in fictional universes. I think having a kingdom that is undoubtedly Jewish would be something many of them would enjoy. A fantasy world where shops need to close up by sunset on Friday, for instance.

The mystery was probably my favorite part of the book. I truly wasn’t 100% certain who’d done it throughout the book, and I thought that it was both a crime of serious nature with an important time frame for solving it without being bloody.

While I enjoyed visiting the world Glassman has imagined what I thought most while reading this was how much I wanted to help get it out to the audience whose hearts would thrill to see themselves represented in the genres they enjoy most. If you’re a queer and/or Jewish reader who wants representation in fantasy and/or cozies, you must try out this series.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Giveaway!

This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 3 entries, 1 via twitter and 2 via comments. Twitter entries were collected into the sheet first, followed by blog comments, in order. Random.org selected entry 2 as the winner, and the second entry on the sheet was dialmformara. Congrats!

screen-shot-2016-12-12-at-10-05-40-pm

Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post stating what genre you would like to see more representation in of LGBTQ or other minority groups.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
    Enter to win A HARVEST OF RIPE FIGS by @ShiraGlassman, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/2g09G9V #ff #cozy #giveaway #fantasy
  3. Repost the Instagram giveaway announcement and tag my Instagram.
  4. Tag three of your friends on the Instagram giveaway announcement.

Each options gets you one entry. Multiple tweets/Instagram posts do not count as multiple entries.

Who Can Enter: International

Contest Ends: December 11th at midnight

Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Categories: GLBTQ

Book Review: Rymellan 3: The Triad by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #3)

Book Review: Rymellan 3: The Triad by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #3)Summary:
Lesley and Mo’s relationship is tested when Mo develops feelings for Jayne and the arrangement the triad struck in Rymellan 2 comes to an end. The three women know they must adapt to the inevitable changes for the triad to thrive, but the triad’s shifting dynamics would challenge the strongest of Rymellans—and does.

Review:
The second book in this series ended on such a cliffhanger that I picked up the third right away. At the time, I wasn’t sure if there would be more in the series or if this would be it. Since then, I discovered another book that has published but I don’t think I’ll be picking it up. The third book left me feeling a bit strung along with questions and no answers for too long for me to keep going.

So Lesley and Mo who we the readers presumed to be soul mates from book one find out in book two that the all-powerful government matchmakers have determined that they actually have a third soul mate and will be formed into a triad. This whole book strikes me as very similar to a real world monogamous couple where one of them falls in love with a third and them trying to make the move into polyamory. Say what you will about the government matchmaking them but their arrangement was to essentially be a couple with a live-in friend and roommate who they consult on household things. The plan was never for anyone to fall in love. But of course (because they’re Chosens) first one then eventually the other does fall in love with Jane. Thus, in spite of the government aspect, it still is essentially the same as a real world couple making the move to polyamory.

Why am I bothering to explain this? Because a lot of the book is dealing with the angst of a couple deciding to become poly. That is a plot point that will either work or not work for a lot of readers. I’m not sure how I feel about a series that starts out as being so strongly a romance between two moving into a poly romance. I’m sure many poly readers would say that’s how they themselves discovered polyamory and enjoyed it. But for me I was expecting one style of story which I really enjoy (lovers having to overcome many things to be together) and instead I got another that I feel very meh about personally (a couple choosing to open things up to polyamory). I guess what I’m saying is I think it might be difficult for the audience for this series to find it because the poly aspect is a surprising plot twist.

The other big change in this book over the others in the series was that the sinisterness of where the society they live in really hangs over this book, and what makes it extra eerie is they don’t seem to realize just how sinister it is. In a book with romance at the center, it’s an odd feeling to have.

While I’m glad to have seen where Lesley and Mo end up, this read to me as a bit of a lukewarm tragedy that didn’t realize it is one. I’d have preferred an obvious happy ever after or a truly dramatic tragedy. However, readers simply looking for a couple that turns into a romantic trio in a scifi backdrop that’s not explained will eat up this series, and I do recommend it to those readers.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death, review
Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives, review

Book Review: Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives by Sarah Ettritch (Series, #2)

May 25, 2016 1 comment

Book Review: Rymellan 2: Shattered Lives by Sarah EttritchSummary:
Mo and Lesley, girlfriends since they were teenagers, have spent the last two years apart awaiting their Chosen papers. Meanwhile they both continue to pursue their careers. Mo as a pilot and Lesley as a member of the Interior, ensuring Rymellans continue to follow the Way. When their Chosen papers finally arrive, they think the uncertainty is finally over. But what they reveal is just another form of it.

Review:
I enjoyed the first book in this series so much that I picked up the second immediately. The first book ends on a cliffhanger, and I just had to find out what happened with Mo and Lesley next. Would they be each other’s Chosen? Would they defy the Way to be together? Was a giant revolt coming? The answer was definitely not what I was expecting, and it certainly keeps the series unique.

While I continued to be deeply invested in Lesley and Mo’s relationship (on pause as it was during much of the book), I was disappointed to find that this book doesn’t explore deeper into any of the questions I had in the first book. I feel that the second book, particularly with its context of Lesley and Mo waiting for papers and both of them in adult jobs with more power and access to information, lends itself perfectly to explaining more about Rymel. Yet this exploration and information reveal never happens.

My questions in the first book revolving around where Rymel comes from, why it’s so not diverse, and the origin of the Way were only added onto. Who is this enemy Rymel is always preparing for?  What about the bisexuals? If Rymellans aren’t actually related to us (Earth humans) at all, that’s fine. They might just only have monosexual identities. But if they are related to us, the lack of the Chosen Way dealing with bisexual/pansexual attractions is frustrating. For that matter, what about trans* people and gender non-conforming people? How exactly are children handled in the same-sex couples? People keep mentioning same-sex female couples having daughters but no one talks about how. And what about same-sex male couples? It’s such a fascinating world, and I found myself like a thirsty person a desert wanting to know more about it and how it works.

The plot goes a direction I really was not expecting. That’s not a bad thing. It surprised me and kept me engaged. There are two aspects of the plot that were unexpected. One isn’t a spoiler so I’ll talk about that first. It’s fairly clear early on in this book that Mo and Lesley aren’t the rebelling sort. They’re going to kowtow to this dystopian regime, and they believe that’s the right thing to do. It’s a different perspective to get. Usually there’s rebellion. But that doesn’t always work out for people in the real world. A lot of people choose to live their lives in safety obeying the state to stay safe, and it’s interesting to see that reflected in literature.

*spoiler*
The Chosen Council puts Mo and Lesley together, but in a Triad. A third person, Jane, is Joined with them. Triads historically haven’t succeeded, and they are extremely rare. But they do exist because sometimes the perfect match actually goes three ways. The Triad is extra complicated because Jane’s parents were famous for committing a Chosen crime (they committed adultery). They were killed and Jane was orphaned young due to this fact. Many Rymellans believe the apple won’t fall far from the tree, so Mo and Lesley being matched with her is controversial. On top of that, there’s an allowance where if two of the three believe the third will cause the Triad to commit a Chosen violation then they can say so and have the third member killed before the Joining Ceremony. That puts interesting added pressure on the group. None of this was a plot I was expecting, but also the acknowledgment of non-monogamous people was something I could see a lot of readers enjoying seeing represented in literature. Plus, it’s a good conflict to add!
*end spoiler*

Ultimately, I was still happy I read this because I was desperate to find out what happened to Lesley and Mo (and continued to be at the end of this book), but I was disappointed not to find out more about Rymel and its history here. Readers primarily interested in the romance who don’t mind the world-building being pushed to the side a bit will most enjoy the direction this series is going.

3 out of 5 stars

Source: Amazon

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Previous Books in Series:
Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death, review

Book Review and Giveaway: Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death by Sarah Ettritch

Book Review and Giveaway: Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death by Sarah EttritchSummary:
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.

Review:
This type of book is exactly the reason I collect review requests year-round from indie authors and publishers and then select a few to review the next year. It gives me a bookstore style shelf of indie books to browse through, letting me find unique books that i might otherwise have missed. This read like feel-good chick lit, only set on another planet in a strict society with a female/female main romance, and the ending left me clamoring for the next book in the series.

One thing that really stuck out to me in the book was that the central issue coming between Mo and Lesley isn’t that their (let’s face it, totalitarian) culture is against same-sex relationships. Same-sex relationships are endorsed and seem to have been part of the culture for quite some time. Potentially forever. No, what is coming between our main couple has nothing to do with homophobia, but instead everything to do with marriages arranged by the state. It’s not that Mo and Lesley can’t be with a woman. It’s that they can’t be with a woman the state hasn’t chosen for them. While plots about homophobia keeping people in love apart are valuable and needed, we also need plots like this that have nothing to do with the sexual orientation. People in same-sex relationships deserve to see themselves in a crazy scifi world where their problems come from the scifi world and not their orientation.

The book starts with Lesley and Mo in high school and falling in love. In their culture, at the age of 18 people receive notification of whether or not they are a Chosen. When they get older (sometime in their 20s….I can’t recall the precise age), from a certain age onward they could receive their Chosen Papers at any point. So basically, everyone expects Lesley and Mo to break up at that age or sooner to be fully prepared for their Chosen. Obeying this law is just one of several ways in which Rymellans follow The Way. The Way is supposed to protect Rymellan culture and make the society the strongest it can be. There isn’t just pressure to conform to The Way. Those that don’t, as the subtitle of the book suggests, will be executed. This is a totalitarian regime after all.

Beyond the relationship and world set up, I also liked how the book follows Lesley and Mo through their young adult choosing of career paths. This transition from high school to career preparation felt very new adult in a good way. Plus, Lesley and Mo both end up choosing career paths that I feel aren’t often represented in literature, and I liked seeing that career path both shown and respected.

Throughout the book I felt compelled to keep reading for two reasons. I was really rooting for Lesley and Mo to be together, and I wanted to know more about this society. Why is The Way such a thing? Will they end up fighting it? What is the big enemy that Rymel is so afraid of and lives constantly preparing for fighting? Are Rymellans related to people from Earth? Are they humanoid aliens?

Readers should be aware that this is what would be considered a clean romance. The feelings the characters have for each other are central and no sex is shown, although it is assumed that people have it and kissing is seen.

Part of these questions were driven by a lack of racial and cultural diversity in the book. I can’t recall there ever being a non-white character or a non-European last name. It made me wonder if this planet was colonized by a small group of white Europeans exclusively, and if so, why? The lack of diversity on such a large planet and in locations with what one would presume is a cross-section of Rymellans did bother me but I also assumed that there was a world-building answer for it. Additionally, the Rymellan culture struck me as so evil and awful that of course the lack of diversity would later come up as one of the many awful things that The Way had enforced, and I eagerly anticipated (in an oh gosh that’s going to be an awful scene way) seeing the answer to this question.

Of course, the book ended with no answers to these questions, which didn’t surprise me since it’s the first in the series. In fact, I would say it ends on a cliffhanger and left with me with even more questions, but of course I then just felt compelled to immediately pick up the next book in the series.

Readers looking for a female/female clean romance with a scifi setting and something keeping the characters apart that isn’t homophobia should pick up a copy right away. If there was some way to send out a bat signal to precisely that demographic, I would, because I know people looking for that often struggle to find it in among the many options of f/f books. So, if that at all describes you, pick up the book! And if it describes the reading preferences of a friend, tell them about it. I’m sure they’d be grateful to you. And the author.

4 out of 5 stars

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

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Giveaway!

This giveaway is now over. Congrats to our winner!
There were 3 entries, all via twitter. Random.org selected entry 1 as the winner, and the first to tweet the giveaway was @helenadamop. Congrats to Helen!

Thanks to the generosity of the author, one lucky Opinions of a Wolf reader can win a copy of this ebook.

How to Enter:

  1. Leave a comment on this post stating if you would trust Rymel to pick a spouse for you.
  2. Copy/paste the following and tweet it from your public twitter. Retweets do not count:
    Enter to win RYMELLAN 1 by @SarahEttritch, hosted by @McNeilAuthor http://buff.ly/1rnSyjP #ff #scifi #romance #lesfic

The blog comment gets you one entry. Each tweet gets you one entry. You may tweet once per day.

Who Can Enter: International

Contest Ends: May 18th at midnight

Disclaimer: The winner will have their book sent to them by the author.  The blogger is not responsible for sending the book.  Void where prohibited by law.

Book Review: If You Could Be Mine by Sara Farizan (Audiobook narrated by Negin Farsad)

January 18, 2016 2 comments

cover_ifyoucouldSummary:
Seventeen-year-old Sahar wants three things in life: 1) to become a doctor 2) for her widowed father to come out of his depression and be the Baba she once knew 3) to marry her best friend Nasrin. The problem is, she lives in Iran, and she and Nasrin could be imprisoned and beaten for just their stolen kisses in private, let alone if they tried to marry each other. When Nasrin’s parents announce that they’ve arranged a marriage for her to a well-to-do doctor, Sahar is heartbroken. Nasrin thinks they can continue on as they have been, but Sahar wants to love her exclusively, and she is determined to find a way.

Review:
This book was all the rage on GLBTQ book blogs a couple of years ago, and it’s been on my tbr pile ever since. When I saw it on Audible and heard a clip of the narration, I knew it was time to read it. I found an interesting, unique piece of YA.

First, let me say, if you at all enjoy audiobooks and have the chance to listen to this rather than read it in print, please do so. Farsad’s narration adds so much to the book. From her light Persian accent to her unique voice for each character to her perfect pronunciation of Persian words and Iranian place names, her narration made the reading of the book much more immersive than it would have been if I had read it in print. Plus, at just over 5 hours, you can read it very quickly. I finished my copy in under a week, thanks to commutes and runs.

Let’s start with the things in this book that really worked well for me.  First, I really appreciated seeing a teenage girl’s relationship with her single father at the forefront. It’s difficult to find a YA book talking much about a girl’s relationship with her father, let alone a single father.  The book pushes beyond even this though and addresses how a parent’s depression affects a teen. Part of why Sahar is so desperate and attached to Nasrin (bare in mind, they are only 17), is that her mother died and her father fell into a depression. He is there every day but it doesn’t feel like he is. At one point, Sahar skips school and says that her baba will not even notice. And he doesn’t. Until the school calls him directly. Her father’s depression is situational, not genetic or chemical, but it still affects him and their relationship, and I thought this and its resolution was well depicted.

The depiction of a non-western culture and issue in a book marketed to western teens is well-handled. Iran is not demonized. The good and bad sides of the country are depicted (and of course there are good and bad sides of every country). Teens who may not personally know someone from the Middle East will benefit greatly from seeing things like the fact that even Sahar’s mild father will sneak a bootleg copy of a DVD to watch but also will be intrigued by and appreciate elements of Iranian culture such as the well-protected oasis-like back yards. Farizan also does a good job establishing things like recent wars in Iran, how the current political situation came to be, etc… without infodumping.

While I sometimes found myself rolling my eyes at the level of emotion Sahar was showing, it was to the appropriate level for a teenager.  Also, other people in Sahar’s life clearly see that she is acting like a teenager and attempt to lovingly and understandingly speak with her about what is going on.

Before I move into speaking about what didn’t work for me, I’d like to talk about the trans content. It’s no plot spoiler that Sahar seeks to keep Nasrin to herself by pursuing a sex reassignment (I am not calling it a gender confirming surgery because for her it is not). This is in the official book blurb, just not mine. Essentially, in Iran (and this is still true), having same-sex attractions is haram/forbidden but being transgender is not. The state will even pay for having the treatment and is known for pushing people with same-sex attraction to get a sex reassignment. Sahar meets Parveen, a transwoman, at her cousin’s party, and this plants the idea in her head that she could marry Nasrin if she gets the surgery. Now, I’m not a transperson, but I do think that the author does a good job depicting real trans people and contrasting that with Sahar’s rather adolescent idea to get to be with Nasrin.  Sahar tells Parveen she thinks she’s trans, and Parveen brings her to a support group where most of the people are actually trans, except one woman, who we later find out was forced to get the sex change. Thus, both the genuine trans experience and the forced sex change experience are depicted in the book. Iran is lauded for its support of trans people (there is even one passage talking about how trans people have to pay for their own surgeries in the US unlike in Iran) but also it is clearly shown how harmful it is for the state to demonize same-sex attractions. Additionally, the trans characters do talk about how while the surgery is supported by the state, culturally they still face discrimination from some of their families, when dating, and when looking for jobs.

So what didn’t work for me? I get it that Sahar and Nasrin are adolescents, but I just could not get the appeal of Nasrin to Sahar. I felt I would have been much more empathetic to the whole situation if Nasrin hadn’t been so selfish and annoying. To be fair, multiple characters point out Nasrin’s selfishness to Sahar, and Sahar even at one point questions why she’s willing to risk so much for Nasrin. There is one scene that I believe is supposed to redeem Nasrin of her bad behavior, but I still struggled to like her or feel empathy for her. It bothers me that Sahar never tells her father about her sexual orientation, in spite of him being depicted as quite modern and understanding.  I also felt that the ending didn’t push things far enough, compared to beginning of the book.  I wanted more from and for Sahar. Perhaps the ending is more realistic, but it did disappoint me.

Overall, this is a unique piece of YA showing the GLBTQ experience in a non-western culture that will elicit both an understanding of a non-western culture and empathy for other life situations and experiences from YA readers.  Readers will identify with Sahar’s genuine adolescent voice, which will draw them into the perhaps quite foreign-feeling situation.

4 out of 5 stars

Source: Audible

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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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