Archive

Archive for the ‘Review’ Category

Book Review: The Good Sister by Sally Hepworth

Cover of the book "The Good Sister."

Summary:
Fern and Rose are fraternal twins. Rose is smart, driven, and Fern’s protector. Fern doesn’t understand the world and so Rose has protected her, ever since they were small. For example, Fern didn’t understand that they spent every day in the library one year when they were little because they were homeless. Just one example of the many ways their mother failed them. In fact, Fern even became a librarian, she remembered that year so fondly. It’s a good thing she has Rose. When Rose struggles with infertility with her husband, Fern hatches a plan to repay Rose for being such a good sister. She’ll get pregnant and give the baby to her. But of course, not everything goes according to plan.

Review:
Sally Hepworth writes psychological thrillers starring casts of women in Australia. Sometimes they feature larger casts of women and other times it’s a couple of women pitted against each other. This is mostly the latter category.

I had my suspicions about the mystery early but thought that must not be it because it was so simplistic. I am sorry to report – it was indeed it. Some psychological thrillers lean a bit too heavily on the trope of – one person in this world is “crazy!” and did unpredictable “crazy!” things and there is no helping them because they are just so “crazy!” so let’s lock them up. I’m not a big fan of this trope for two reasons: 1) people are more complex than that 2) it’s a bit of a cheat to the reader because then things can happen that are unpredictable and make no sense. However, I get it that it’s a trope in psychological thrillers and am usually willing to give it a bit of a pass. In this case, however, the reader is told this character probably has Narcissistic Personality Disorder or Borderline Personality Disorder. There’s a character who has told their therapist all about them, and that therapist hypothesizes that this character might have one of these two illnesses. Everyone else in the book just accepts this and moves on. I am not saying people with these personality disorders never do bad things or hurt others, but the same can be said of all types of people. Plus, the character’s actions aren’t made out to be about them as a person but rather a symptom of their illness. It reminds me of how Schizophrenia used to be treated in literature. This character doesn’t even get the decency of having the state investigate their mental health or a clear diagnosis. It both unnecessarily maligns two of the most maligned types of mental illnesses and creates an entirely two-dimensional character.

Then there’s the representation of Autism. From the beginning, it’s clear that Fern is Autistic (I am not using person-first language as many in the Autistic community prefer claiming the word as a part of who they are, rather than as an illness), but she is depicted in such a stereotypical way that it hurt to read. For example, constantly bringing up how she doesn’t like to look people in the eyes and belaboring the point at random times when she might make eye contact. Her sensory episodes felt as if they were written by someone outside of her body rather than by her – problematic since it was written in the first person. The whole first half of the book has a lot of anti-Autistic sentiment, including wondering whether or not Fern could actually be capable of raising a baby. Are these reversed at the end of the book? Somewhat. But to me the damage is done by wondering about it in the first half.

So why am I still giving this book three stars? I have to admit that it was a page turner – I had to know what happened to Fern and the baby growing inside her. I couldn’t stop reading until I knew. The energy of must-find-out that is needed in a thriller was there, even if I was disappointed by the characterization, representation, and ultimately found the solution to be a bit flat.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: Winter Counts by David Heska Wanbli Weiden

Cover of the book "Winter Counts."

Summary:
Virgil Wounded Horse does his best to find his way making a life and a living on the Rosebud Indian Reservation (the Lakota people) in South Dakota – newly sober from alcohol, the legal guardian of his teenage nephew, and working as a hired vigilante. When heroin finds its way onto the reservation and directly impacts his nephew, he finds himself working to stop the threat of the cartels to his people alongside his ex-girlfriend.

Review:
This is simultaneously a wholesome and gritty thriller. Wholesome in that Virgil’s commitment to his sobriety, his family, and his people is full of honor and family values in the face of so many challenges. Gritty in that there are colorful depictions of violence as Virgil does his vigilante work and pursues the cartel. In a way it reminds me of Breaking Bad in the early seasons – someone doing something outside of the law for his family – only it’s outside of the law to stop the drugs, not to make them.

There was a lot I enjoyed here. The different setting and voice for this gritty mystery kept me engaged in a genre I’ve read a lot in. The mystery is solid. I had my suspicions but I didn’t have everything figured out before the end. So, yes, it’s not quite as simple as an outside cartel but it’s not a super obvious answer either. I also really like how the ex-girlfriend becomes such a key part of the story. Virgil listens to and respects her, even when he doesn’t immediately agree with her, which was so refreshing to read. I similarly like that we come into Virgil’s life after he’s already sober. This allows the book to explore him putting his life back together as a sober person and dealing with some really tough shit – demonstrating that things don’t get easy automatically just because you’re sober. I appreciated very much how thoughtfully the author shared his Lakota culture with the readers while simultaneously respecting what aspects of it need to stay private and sacred. As a person who has the Sioux Chef book, I appreciated so much the inclusion of Indigenous cuisine via an Indigenous chef and food truck coming to the reservation.

While I wouldn’t call the depictions and discussions of violence gratuitous as they are necessary to the plot, they are graphic. I thought it never went further than it needed to. However, it is important for potential readers to know they are there. There are discussions of off-scene cartel vengeance and rape of women and underaged girls. There are on-scene descriptions of fist-fights and gun fights.

Those who like grittier thrillers and either want a unique setting in the genre or want a mystery investigator who is sober will enjoy this read. I hope we’ll see more of Virgil in the future.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (Series, #1)

Cover of the book The Empress of Salt and Fortune

Summary:
Chih, a non-binary cleric, is on a walking journey when they meet an elderly woman, Rabbit, with a story to tell. Chih ends up staying and listening to Rabbit’s tale while cataloging the archives of her things. It slowly is revealed just how much of history Rabbit was quietly witness to and participant of.

Review:
The summary I read was nothing like the one I wrote above and, therefore, I was under the misimpression from the combination of the summary and the title that this was a magical realism book featuring an actual rabbit. I also didn’t know how each chapter would start with essentially an archives finding aid that Chih is writing. There was a time in my life when I wrote finding aids for work, and I must be honest – I didn’t enjoy it. The combination of these two things didn’t put me in a great headspace for this book. However, I do think it’s a good read when it finds its audience, and that’s what I’m hoping to do here.

This book features a non-binary main character whose sidekick is a fabulous talking bird. Female/female love is also well-represented here. It is set in a fantasy world inspired by Asian period dramas with dashes of fantasy (like the talking bird). The entire premise revolves around respecting and listening to an elder – treating her as important simply because she is elderly. It of course then turns out that she has a pivotal role in history, but Chih would have never known that if they hadn’t listened to her. Those who love the history of items will also likely really enjoy reading the descriptors of Rabbit’s possessions at the start of each chapter. While this is a short book (novella length), it is the first in a series, so you can visit its world, and, if you like it, you can keep on going with the rest of the series.

Recommended to those looking for a fantasy with an Asian period drama fantasy written by an own voices author with a dash of magical realism and queerness.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 112 pages – novella/short nonfiction

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: Take a Hint, Dani Brown by Talia Hibbert (Series, #2)

Cover of the book Take a Hint Dani Brown.

Summary:
Danika Brown, PhD student, might have a workaholic problem with her all hours of the day research, writing, and teaching. But she certainly doesn’t have a romance problem, because she keeps her sexual relationships devoid of romance. Zafir, once pro rugby player, now security guard at the university and founder of a sports charity for kids that’s still getting off the ground, knows he has feelings for Dani. When there’s a fire alarm in the building and Dani doesn’t evacuate, he can’t help going back in for her and carrying her outside. Then the video goes viral as #DrRugbae, and his niece realizes this could be the solution for his charity. Dani is game to pretending to be a couple until the viral attention goes away. But somehow slowly the pretending feels less and less like pretend.

Review:
Listen, if you are looking for a romance novel with a bisexual leading lady who actually uses the word “bisexual” to describe herself AND says it to the hero AND it’s no big deal to him AND there’s no cheating betwixt them AND the happy ever after is monogamous then stop what you are doing and pick up this book. Right now. Because honey, that perfectly describes this book. I also want to note that, Dani isn’t an aromantic convinced into romance – she’s a romantic whose heart was shattered who’s pretending she’s not into romance to keep her heart safe.

Ok, so if you’re not a bisexual reader desperate for that type of representation in a romance novel, why might you be into this book? Well, it’s hilarious. Laugh out loud funny. Dani and Zaf are equally funny and complicated. Their misunderstandings make sense. They both apologize when necessary. The set-up as to why they are fake dating is for a good cause (his charity) not something inane like tricking extended family at a wedding. They’re an inter-racial (Black and Pakistani) and inter-faith (witch and Muslim) couple. But the problems they encounter don’t really have to do with any of that. It has entirely to do with learning how to speak with and open up to one another.

I also really liked the growing opportunities for both Dani and Zaf beyond their relationship. Dani needs to learn better work/life balance. No one judges her for wanting to be successful, but she starts to learn she needs to have some downtime too. Zaf needs to learn not to entirely ditch his past and be more honest about his own grief and mental health issues that led to him starting the charity to begin with.

Sex scenes exist in this romance novel, but they are not constant (ie, don’t expect one every chapter!) The ones that do exist are explicit without turning corny. Consent is always clear but not in a natural way, not an awkward way. The sex scenes are also, dare I say it, entertaining and sweet?

While I note this is a series, you don’t have to read all three Brown sister books or necessarily read them in order. Although I will note that if you read the second book, you’ll see who Chloe ends up with (the sister from the first book). While I think all three books are well-worth the read, I admit to Dani’s story being my favorite.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 320 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: The Conductors by Nicole Glover

Cover of the book The Conductors.

Summary:
Hetty Rhodes was once enslaved, but she ran away with her sister, only her sister was caught while she escaped. She began returning south to try to free her sister, but with her repeated trips became a Conductor on the Underground Railroad, alongside a man named Benjy, using their magic to help others escape. Now the Civil War is over and she and Benjy, who is now her husband, have built a life for themselves in Philadelphia. He’s a blacksmith, she’s a seamstress, and they both solve crimes in their spare time that the white authorities can’t be bothered with. When one of their friends turns up dead in an alley, their investigation takes them throughout Black Philadelphia on a hunt for answers.

Review:
The premise of the worldbuilding for this book reminded me of Thieftaker (review), the first in the Thieftaker Chronicles, which I really enjoyed, only set in the 1800s rather than the 1700s and with a Black woman lead rather than a white man. I say this as I was excited and thought this was a good thing. I remember thinking at the time that I wished there were more alternate history fantasy books and I was excited when the next one I saw brought such diversity to the genre.

I liked the magic in this book. I thought it was a great analogy for colonizing culture versus Black and Indigenous culture. The colonizing culture (Sorcery) requires the use of tools (wands) but the wands make that magic very powerful. The Black and Indigenous cultures use Celestial magic, which doesn’t require tools (they draw sigils instead). It can become very powerful but takes more study and time to become so. Anyone with magic being able to pick up a wand and wreak some havoc with very little knowledge as an analogy for weapons like guns I thought was great.

The book also demonstrates the community the Black folks of Philadelphia built up, which included those who freed themselves by running away, those who were freed by the Civil War, and those who were born free. There is a male/male relationship included among Hetty’s friend group, as well as a woman who experienced infertility and adopted a baby.

What didn’t work for me was the order in which the plot was told. The book starts in post-Civil War Philadelphia with Hetty and Benjy (her husband) working together to solve cases, in much the same way they used to work together as Conductors on the Underground Railroad. How Hetty escaped, met Benjy, and how they worked together as Conductors was told through a series of broken up flashbacks throughout the book. For me, this didn’t work. I was much more heavily invested in the stories being told in the flashbacks than in the present mystery, largely because a lot of the present storytelling relied upon the relationship between Hetty and Benjy and, without the full flashbacks, I had no understanding of the relationship between Hetty and Benjy. I needed to know why they were, for example, married but just for propriety’s sake. I needed to know why they decided to work together as Conductors in the first place. What finally pushed them to get married? I was so confused and felt so much like I was dropped into the middle of a pre-existing world that I went and double-checked to make sure I hadn’t accidentally started with the second book in a series. Characters, even beyond Benjy and Hetty, kept talking about things that had recently happened in a way that felt like they had happened in a previous book. For example, the character who adopted a baby, the line about that felt like how the second book in a series will remind you of what happened in the first with that having been a key plot point in the first. I would say, in general, that for me, everything would have worked better if the first book in the series had been how Hetty and Benjy met and became Conductors together, maybe ending with them solving their first case as investigators after the War. Then this could have been the second book, perhaps with some additional flashbacks to inform us of some things from during the War.

I am sure that there are others that will read that paragraph and think “oh I like that vibe,” and that’s great. I hope this review helps this book find its audience. For me, though, I simply don’t like being dropped into the middle of the story.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 384 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Product Review: Allay Lamp

February 23, 2021 Leave a comment
A glowing green lamp.

The Allay lamp is a narrow band green light therapy lamp that I purchased in early November 2020. Why did I do such a thing?

Emerging research suggests that green light therapy may be beneficial for migraines. I have episodic (non-chronic) migraines with aura. This means that I have fewer than 15 migraines a month. Fifteen or more would make it chronic. When I do have migraines, I experience aura. For me, my aura presents as seeing sound (synesthesia). What I read initially was that using a green light during a migraine as your light source might mean needing to try to function through a migraine could be less painful (akin to putting on sunglasses during a migraine). While my migraines have improved significantly since I began working remotely due to the pandemic last March, I was still having them. What really pushed it over the edge for me was that I was struggling to do yoga at home. Basically, the lighting in our home is primarily overhead. If I was in even the beginning stages of a migraine, I found it painful to do yoga. It was important to me for stress management to be able to continue to practice, so I started investigating in alternative lighting sources. But all of them just seemed like they would still cause me pain if I was symptomatic. The Allay lamp seemed like it at least stood a shot of giving me enough light to practice yoga while not causing me pain.

What’s special about green light? Different colors of light are also different wavelengths. The Allay lamp uses a very specific narrow range of green light that is small enough that it isn’t painful to look at for people with light sensitivity due to migraine. (Their website does a far better job of giving a detailed explanation than I just did.) Interestingly, new research is emerging that shows that use of green light therapy by those with migraines had a significant reduction in number of migraine days, as well as even more significant reduction how bad the migraine was when it did come, as well as improvement in quality of life. (Martin et al, 2021)

So the science is, arguably, limited, but promising, and this is a non-invasive treatment. Essentially – it’s a light. If I didn’t like it, I could just…not use it. So I figured I would go ahead and try it. Plus, I really liked that it’s charged by usb and fully portable. If I was going to use it regularly, it needed to be able to easily move around the house with me.

I’ve used it since the middle of November. This is just a description of my own experience as a person with episodic migraines with aura.

A woman in a flannel shirt looks directly into a glowing green light
  • If I am feeling at all light sensitive, I can use the Allay lamp without pain from light. This allows me to continue doing some activities.
  • Usually when I am feeling light sensitive, I am also actually in some low-level pain without realizing it. About an hour or so into using the light, I will notice that pain suddenly easing.
  • If I am experiencing prodrome (pre-migraine symptoms that tell me a migraine is oncoming), sometimes I can actually arrest the migraine by putting myself in a dark room with my Allay lamp for an hour. This is true regardless of what I am doing while I am using Allay (ie I’m not always doing yoga when I use Allay, so it’s not the yoga.) This is so much the case that if I am exhibiting any prodrome symptoms my spouse, who used to suggest I take some ibuprofen and have some caffeine (which can sometimes arrest migraines), has now started saying, “Maybe you should go spend some quality time with your lamp.”
  • My migraines are not entirely gone, but they are less frequent, less severe, and I can arrest them when they start at night without messing up my sleep by drinking caffeine. I’m also able to take ibuprofen less often, something I prefer. (I prefer not to take any medication unless I must). If I am in an active migraine, the pain is eased by spending time with Allay.
  • I usually feel less anxious after using Allay. It’s possible that my anxiety is exacerbated by pain, so this is just a symptom of the pain easing. I suppose I could try using it on a day when I am not in pain but am feeling anxious to test this. If I do, I will update this review further.

A note that when you first come out of the green light, regular light looks a little wonky. I think it looks kind of like a pinkish-purple. This was noted on the paperwork that came with my lamp and that it would pass. It’s just from seeing one wavelength of light for a time. It passes very rapidly for me (under 2 minutes), and frankly I enjoy seeing the purple light anyway (cue Purple Rain). It comes with a shade to “direct” the light. Personally, I felt like it just blocked one side of the light and didn’t make the other side stronger, so I don’t use it. The directions say you can lay your palm on the top to turn it on, but I find I have to purposefully put my finger at the particular on location on the top of the lamp.

So, bottom line? If you have migraines and the money to spare, I recommend trying it for the reasons I explained above. If you don’t have migraines but do think you’d like to try a different type of relaxation light, I don’t see any reason not to try it. The light is soothing to me, and it’s portable and easy to set up.

Currently, Allay is $149. Get $25 off the cost of the lamp by using my referral link here (the referral link generates a coupon code).
Full disclosure: I receive $25 for every purchase made with my link. However, all of my opinions in this review are an honest reflection of my experience with Allay. I tried it for three months prior to posting to ensure I had a solid amount of use of Allay prior to reviewing. I use it at least once a week, sometimes more often.

Disclaimer: The information given in this review is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice; it is provided for educational purposes only. You assume full responsibility for how you choose to use this information. Seek advice from a qualified health care provider before starting a new treatment or discontinuing a current treatment. Speak with your health care provider about any questions you may have.

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: Burn Baby Burn by Meg Medina

February 16, 2021 Leave a comment

Summary:
Set in New York City during the tumultuous year of 1977, this focuses on Nora, a Cuban-American 17-year-old in her final months of high school and the summer immediately after. Son of Sam is terrorizing the city, shooting young people at what seems to be random, there’s a heat wave, and a black-out. Nora needs to figure out what she’s going to do with her life after high school, but her younger brother, Hector, is becoming more uncontrollable, and she needs to help her mother with the rent. All she wants to do is go to the disco with the cute guy from work, but is that even safe with Son of Sam around?

Review:
I really enjoyed this one. The setting was great – all the fun of the 1970s with none of the exploitation or sexual violence often seen in the movies and books that came out of that era. That is not to say that there is no violence (domestic violence, drug abuse, drug paraphernalia, arson, homes threatened by fires, brief and not very descriptive animal abuse) are all present. But still, compared to the movies from that time period, the violence is minimal.

I also enjoyed that, while the events of 1977 definitely are present, there is no unrealistic connections between the main character and them. You know how sometimes a main character in a historic piece is written in as having done something pivotal or having some connection to a historic person. None of that here.

While I appreciated the presence of Stiller (a Black woman progressive downstairs neighbor), I would have liked any indication of the queer culture that was present in NYC, especially with some particularly interesting moments also occurring in the 1970s (like the start of Gaysweek or the NY ruling on trans* rights). Given how many characters are heavily involved in the women’s movement, it seems like it would have been fairly simple to have a bit of crossover or touchstone between these.

Another thing that I think could have taken this book up a notch for those less familiar with disco would be a song suggestion for each chapter or a Spotify playlist to go along with it. Whenever music features heavily in a historic book, I think this is a good idea.

If you’re looking to dive into a quick-paced YA featuring disco and the reassurance that bananas years do pass, I recommend picking this one up.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 310 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: Ceremony by Leslie Marmon Silko

February 9, 2021 Leave a comment
Cover of the book "Ceremony," features a blue feather on a blue background.

Summary:
Tayo, an Indigenous Laguna man, returns from being a prisoner of war of the Japanese in WWII without his cousin. Cousin is the technically accurate word, but since Tayo grew up in his cousin’s household after his mother left him there brother felt more accurate. Tayo is half-white and has always felt estranged, but this feeling is only heightened after the war. He is suffering from shell-shock and feels emptiness in the alcohol and violence the other veterans take solace in. When his grandmother sets him up with a ceremony with a shaman with unusual ways, things start to change.

Review:

He wanted to walk until he recognized himself again.

61% location

After years of reading many books about alcoholism – both its ravages and quitting it – I’ve started having to actively seek out the stories that are a bit less well-known. Now, this book is well-known in Indigenous lit circles, but I’ve only rarely heard it mentioned in quit lit circles. I was immediately intrigued both due to its Indigenous perspective (this is own voices by an Indigenous female author) and due to its age (first published in 1986). Told non-linearly and without chapters, this book was a challenge to me, but by the end I was swept into its storytelling methods and unquestionably moved.

He was not crazy; he had never been crazy. He had only seen and heard the world as it always was: no boundaries, only transitions through all distances and time.

95% location

This book is so beautiful in ways that are difficult to describe. Its perspective on why things are broken and how one man can potentially be healed (and maybe all of us can be healed if we just listen) was so meaningful to me. I’m glad I stepped out of my comfort zone to read it.

We all have been waiting for help a long time. But it never has been easy. The people must do it. You must do it.

51% location

I really enjoyed how clear this book makes it that any care for addiction delivered needs to be culturally competent to truly serve the person who needs help. It also does not shy away from the very specific pain of being an Indigenous person in the US, and how addiction both seeks to quell that pain and rebel against the oppressive society.

It’s rare for me to re-read a book, but I anticipate this being a book I re-read over the course of time. I expect each reading will reveal new things. For those who already know they enjoy this type of storytelling, I encourage you to pick this up. Its perspective on WWII’s impact on Indigenous peoples and alcoholism is wonderful. For those who don’t usually read this type of story, I encourage you to try out something new. Make the decision to just embrace this way of telling a story and dive right into it. Especially if you usually read quit lit or post-WWII fiction.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 270 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: Sun-Daughters, Sea-Daughters by Aimee Ogden

February 2, 2021 2 comments
Cover of the book

Summary:
A scifi, queer version of The Little Mermaid that wonders what happens after Ariel leaves the ocean?

In this version, Ariel is Atuale. Eric is Saareval. The sea witch is Yanja. The land folk find themselves the victim of a deadly disease that Atuale is immune to thanks to Yanja’s genetic engineering that let her switch from sea dwelling to land dwelling. She seeks out Yanja who takes her on an interplanetary trip to find help from other humanoids with more advanced technology than their own.

Coming February 23, 2021.

Review:
When I heard a queer scifi version of The Little Mermaid, I couldn’t hit the request button on NetGalley fast enough, which I point out to say, perhaps my expectations may have been a little too high.

This is a novella and so the world-building is tight not deep. In spite of this, I did feel I was able to quickly catch on to the world, but I suppose I might not feel that way if I wasn’t already a big reader of scifi. Its world isn’t that unique for scifi. Gene-edited humanoids live on various planets. There are some more fully alien species. Each planet has its own culture and problems, etc… I like that the gene-editing explains why the “sea witch” was able to move Atuale from the ocean dwelling to land dwelling. Yanja is less a sea witch and more a rogue sea scientist, which is neat.

The queer representation in this book is that Yanja was in a female body when Atuale lived in the ocean, and they were lovers. When Atuale seeks Yanja out again, Yanja is now in a male body. Saareval is male. So Atuale is bisexual and Yanja is trans. I appreciated how rapidly Atuale accepted Yanja’s new gender. There were no deadnaming issues as Yanja kept the same name throughout. I was disappointed in the representation of Atuale, though, mainly because I think one particular plot point falls into stereotypes of bisexual people. I wish a more creative approach to the plot was taken. It felt like a stereotypical and easy way through the story rather than a thoughtful one.

Personally, I struggled a bit to want to read this because I wasn’t expecting the future pandemic plot and that was just a bit too real for me right now. Perhaps other readers will find it comforting to see a pandemic being addressed in scifi, though. You know your own potential reaction the best.

I also want to offer the trigger warning that there is miscarriage in a flashback.

Overall, this novella has fun world building with a plot that looks at what happens after the happily ever after in The Little Mermaid. There is trans and bisexual representation, although the latter falls into stereotypes. Readers looking for a merger of The Little Mermaid with scifi and a scifi interplanetary approach to a pandemic are likely to enjoy this quick read.

3 out of 5 stars

Length: 112 pages – novella

Source: NetGalley

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications

Book Review: These Witches Don’t Burn by Isabel Sterling (Series, #1)

January 26, 2021 Leave a comment

Summary:
Hannah loves her life in Salem, Massachusetts – working at the Fly By Night Cauldron store selling witchy items while secretly being the real deal herself – an Elemental witch. She’s about to enter her senior year of high school and things are a bit complicated of course – there’s her ex-girlfriend, Veronica, and fellow Elemental to deal with and the fact that her best friend is a Reg (non-witch) and can’t know. But when an end of year party ends with a blood ritual, Hannah becomes convinced there’s a dangerous Blood Witch in town, and she wants to find her before it’s too late. Plus there’s the cute ballerina, Morgan, she’s trying to date.

Review:
If you’re looking for queer representation in your YA fantasy, this book is here for you. Hannah is a lesbian, her coworker at the Cauldron is a gay trans man (in his first year of college), and Morgan is bisexual. The queer characters aren’t perfect, and they do gently educate each other with people apologizing to each other and strengthening friendships. I love how realistic that is. It’s not a fantasy land of everyone just perfectly knowing exactly what the right thing is to say, but it is a world of mutual respect and trying to be there for each other and correct mistakes. Speaking as a bisexual woman, I found the representation of Morgan accurate and kind, which is more than I can say about a lot of bisexual representation in literature.

The plot is less gentle and feel-good than you might expect. There is more violence and even death than I was expecting based on the plot summary and the fact that it’s the first book in a series. If you’re thinking about this one, know that you will be getting a mixture of feel-good and real danger. This is also definitely a book that’s setting up the next book in the series. I immediately put the next book on hold in the library, and kind of wished I’d done it sooner so I could have read them one right after the other.

While there are witches who are Black and People of Color in the book, they all seem to come from outside of Salem. While it is true that Salem is 70.8% white and non-Hispanic (Data USA), I think even if one was using the argument that Salem is very white in real life, the lack of People of Color inside of Salem in the book isn’t accurate. I also think, personally, that we have a responsibility in literature but especially in YA where we’re trying to help youth feel seen and heard, to depict all types of diversity, not just diversity of the queer spectrum.

If you or someone you’re giving book recommendations to is looking for a YA book rich in fantasy and queer characters, this may be the right read. I would recommend being prepared to have a conversation about why greater diversity matters and ensure the reader is ok with some violence (not just of the magic kind). I’d also be prepared to just pick up both books right away as this one really leads right to the next one.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 336 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

Buy It (Amazon or IndieBound)

Support me on Ko-fi

View my publications