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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.

New Release Friday: The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood (#romance #ff)

I know quite a few of my readers are into new f/f fiction and romance, and this is a lovely intersection of the two. I particularly like that Michelle cares so much about creating a f/f story where the central conflict isn’t coming from the relationship itself. Take it away, Michelle!

New Release Friday: The Better to Kiss You With by Michelle Osgood (#pnr #ff)

Blurb:
In the rare moments when Deanna Scott isn’t working as the moderator for Wolf’s Run, an online werewolf role-playing game, she wanders the local forest trails with her golden retriever, Arthur, and daydreams about Jaime, the attractive, enigmatic woman who lives upstairs.

As Wolf Run’s “den mother,” Deanna is accustomed to petty online drama. But when threats from an antagonistic player escalate, Deanna wonders if her awesome online job could be riskier than she’d ever imagined—and if her new girlfriend knows more about this community than she had realized.

Genre: paranormal romance, f/f

What makes this book unique in its genre?
The Better to Kiss You With is a paranormal romance with queer girls, werewolves, and gaming!  It is set in Vancouver, BC, and tells the story of Deanna, who is the moderator of an online werewolf role playing game.  She lives and works in a tiny one bedroom apartment with her dog Arthur, and falls for the attractive and mysterious woman who is her upstairs neighbour.  When a player from the game Deanna works for escalates his threats, Deanna shrugs them off, but her new girlfriend has reason to believe that the player’s bite is worse than his bark…

What was one important thing to you at the center of writing this book?
It was important to me to write a F/F romance where the source of conflict didn’t come from within the relationship.  As I was writing The Better to Kiss You With, GamerGate was in full swing, and I was reading over and over again about women who were experiencing serious online threats, harassment, and stalking.  It infuriated me that these women were experiencing very real terror but had had so little recourse, while the perpetrators of the threats faced with little to no consequences for their actions.  Thanks to these men, because it’s important to note that the perpetrators of this kind of violence are primarily men, I didn’t have to look too hard to find my bad guy.

Buy It on Amazon (print or ebook).
Buy It direct from Interlude Press in print or ebook.

Coupon Code:
But wait! Now through April 25th, get 25% off when buying the book direct from Interlude Press using coupon code: BETTERTOKISS. Buy the ebook here, and the print book here.

Thanks so much for being featured here on Opinions of a Wolf, Michelle!
Would you be interested in being featured on New Release Friday? Find out how here.
New Release Friday is a sponsored post but I only feature books on New Release Friday that I believe would interest readers of this blog. Book reviews are never sponsored. Find out more about the sponsored post policy here.

 

Wolfy’s Favorites – Episode 2

Hello my lovely readers!

I hope you had wonderful Marches and enjoyed welcoming spring. Boston’s weather was very all over the place. Spring-like one day and snowing the next. I can tell you that shoveling snow another time when I’d thought I was done with it was *not* one of my favorite things this month! Lol.

Wolfy's Favorites -- Episode 2

Turkey Cordon Bleu

I have a severe food intolerance to chicken (something that took years to discover and before you ask, trust me, it’s gross, you don’t want to know). Back in the day, chicken cordon bleu was a favorite meal of mine, and I’ve really missed it. One day the thought struck me that hey, I bet I could make this with turkey. I discovered that it is possible, although turkey tenderloin is much larger than chicken breasts. You have to cut them in half width-wise, or they’re too wide, and you have to sometimes cut them down by size even more to make the pinwheels the right size. However, after that cutting, the rest of it is pretty much just like chicken cordon bleu. Using low fat swiss cheese and high quality ham slices along with minimal shallow pan frying in ghee kept these a low-calorie dinner….., and we ate them at least twice this month. At least.

Wolfy's Favorites -- Episode 2

A screenshot I took of the livecam. So majestic and yet so derpy.

Washington DC Bald Eagle Nest Live Cam

So the American Eagle Foundation has had a mated pair of bald eagles in the National Arboretum since 2014. They are named Mr. President and First Lady, and this month they hatched two eaglets, and you can watch the mated pair care for their eaglets 24/7 on a pair of live cameras at the nest!! This has honestly been a bit of a time sink for me, and I don’t care one iota.

Wolfy's Favorites -- Episode 2

This is a screenshot. Click out below to watch the video!

Who Is Calling Me – A Short Documentary by Olivia Nevius

My littlest sister-in-law is a cinematographer and photographer, and this month she completed this short documentary about their family and their love of ham radio. My husband and his whole family have ham radio licenses, which I think is quite the unique family hobby. (Before you ask: yes, I intend to get my license too). We’d heard rumblings of the documentary, and I was vaguely around while various filming was being done (most particularly, I was cooking dinner the night she interviewed my husband for it via Skype…she lives in Chicago, and we live in Boston). I was really excited to get to see the final product and very proud of her.

Wolfy's Favorites -- Episode 2

Bunny Leggings by CowCow

These bunny leggings arrived just in time for springtime mountain biking with my husband. I was worried since they’re white they’d be see-through, but they actually are opaque, no worries about that! They’re a stretchy, slippery fabric that is just right for spring temperatures.

And finally, my favorite book since the last episode.

Wolfy's Favorites -- Episode 2

Rymellan 1: Disobedience Means Death by Sarah Ettritch

This is one of my 2016 ARCs, and it left me on the edge of my seat so much that I immediately read the next two books in the trilogy. The first entry has a dystopian-style military regime that may pull the f/f couple apart (for non sexual orientation reasons). I got so invested in their relationship that I just had to find out if they end up together.

That’s it for March. Be sure to tune in next month for episode 3 of Wolfy’s Favorites!

What were some of your favorite things in the month of March? Did you have a favorite read? Have you tried out any of the things I’ve mentioned? Tell us about your experience in the comments!

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

Buy It

2016’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 8, 2016 3 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: 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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