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Book Review: The House in the Cerulean Sea by T.J. Klune

Digital image of the cover for The House in the Cerulean Sea. A cartoon drawing of a Victorian style home on a cliff over the ocean with two trees blowing in the breeze. A yellow bar on the side advertises that this is a New York Times and USA Today bestseller.

Summary:
Linus leads a solitary life with his cat and his records and an ethical commitment to his job as a Case Worker for the Department in Charge of the Magical Youth in the UK. When his long-time commitment to investigating cases precisely according to the book by Extremely Upper Management with a highly classified case, he finds himself Marsyas Island Orphanage. Here six dangerous children reside: a gnome, a sprite, a wyvern, an unidentifiable green blob, a were-Pomeranian, and the Antichrist. Linus must put aside his own fears and decide if they’re likely to bring about the end-times, all while keeping a particularly special eye on their mysterious caretaker, Arthur Parnassus.

Review:
When I picked this up, I expected to read a cheery tongue-in-cheek book about the end times. What I got instead was a cheery book, yes, but one about taking the risks that allow you to actually live your life in a fulfilling way. It inspired me and made me teary-eyed.

Klune simultaneously depicts the soul-crushing horror of working for a bureaucratic organization and makes it funny. This is evident just by the name Extremely Upper Management. It is just so relatable to see Linus working for a government organization that clearly has some nefarious tendencies and, at the very least, creates a terrible work environment, yet that Linus has convinced himself is him doing an ethical job. He clasps to the idea that he is making a good impact on the world, and therefore allows his life to be the horrible and depressing way it is. It takes going to Marsyas Island to snap him out of it.

Just as Linus’s depressing London life is drawn (the depiction of his commute alone is just so on point to a city commute), Maryas Island is depicted to beautifully that even now, weeks after finishing the book, I can send my mind back there for a mini-break. It’s not that it’s perfect, there are, of course, infuriating aspects to small town life (like the ferry) but! Linus can see the sun again. And he can see what can happen when people are encouraged that there is good in them they just need to draw out. My favorite of the children is the gnome, a little girl with a beard who loves her garden and threatens to kill with her shovel anyone who seems like a danger to it. But instead of focusing on the negative (the shovel threatening) Arthur focuses on encouraging her to show people her garden and guide them through what there is to appreciate about it and how to appreciate it respectfully.

I was surprised but thrilled by the blooming attraction between Linus and another adult male at the island (I somehow didn’t know that Klune is a Lambda Literary Award winning author). When I realized that a potential change for Linus might include finding love after 40 as well, I was thrilled. I would be hesitant to call this a romance, because I felt like it was really a book about living your life in a way that is authentic to who you really are and makes you happy, Loving someone who loves you back is part of that for Linus. But it’s not the focus. His life calling is the focus.

I want to encourage readers who might be distressed by Linus’s initial disappointment in his own body size and commitment to dieting that this is not a story where pounds magically fall away on an island and only then can our character find love. No, this set-up is part of making room for Linus to learn to love his body and care about other markers of health (like having a healthy glow).

This is a delightful fantasy about breaking out of your routine to find the life you really want to live. About helping children and adults find the good in themselves and draw it out. About a gay man learning to love his body and finding love in his 40s. It was so beautifully written it left me speechless, and I pre-ordered Klune’s next book. Recommended to those wanting to find inspiration to living a life that brings joy.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 394 pages – average but on the longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes

Digital cover of the book "The Deep" by Rivers Solomon with Daveed Diggs, William Hutson, and Jonathan Snipes. A mermaid swims among what appear to be whales.

Summary:
Yetu is the historian for her people – the mermaid descendants of pregnant enslaved African women thrown overboard from slave-ships before they could give birth. As the historian, Yetu holds the painful memories of her people, helping them to experience them once a year. But the pain of holding the memories is more burdensome for Yetu than for previous historians, as she is more sensitive than any historian before her. One year, in the middle of the history ceremony, she flees for the surface in an act of self-preservation. Can she both preserve herself and not abandon her people?

Review:
This book wowed me, taking my breath away from start to finish. If you know you like mermaid stories and want a fresh take on them, just go pick this up immediately.

The number of authors is large because this book was inspired by a song by the hip-hop group, .clipping. I love that the song authors gave permission to Rivers Solomon to write this book inspired by the song, and Solomon in turn credited them for the book. It’s a beautiful collaboration, and the song is well-worth the listen.

No one ever says explicitly that Yetu is neurodiverse, but it’s clear that she is. Her neurodiversity both made her a candidate to be the historian but also made the task soul-crushing and life-destroying for her. I love that no one in the book ever decides that Yetu is the one at fault for this. In other words, Yetu is not blamed for this problem, rather the culture is questioned and it is wondered how sustainable this model is if it doesn’t work for everyone in the culture. Similarly, although Yetu on some level wants to break fully away from her society, she also feels a responsibility to them and wrestles with how to be loyal to both them and herself. The questions that Yetu asks herself in this process struck me as so poignant and painfully real.

Was there anything about her that wasn’t a performance for others’ gratification?

(location 17%)

Is this my curse? To be unfathomable? 

(location 58%)

But this isn’t just a book about a culture being a space for those both neurotypical and neurodiverse, it’s also a myth that demonstrates the role of intergenerational trauma. It shows intergenerational trauma rather than telling, and that is powerful.

As with all of Rivers Solomon’s work, there is also queer content in this book. There is gender fluidity (in the mermaids) and a queer relationship between Yetu and a two-leg. I thought this was one of the more artful relationships between a mermaid and a land dweller I’ve seen.

Recommended for readers looking for Black mermaids, a neurodiverse main character, and/or a queer relationship between a mermaid and a land dweller.

5 out of 5 stars

Length: 192 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Library

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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

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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 longer side

Source: Library

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Book Review: The Color Purple by Alice Walker

April 18, 2020 3 comments

colorpurpleSummary:
Alice Walker’s classic about Celie and her life in the deep American South between WWI and WWII. The simplest plot summary is the survivor of both rape by her father and a forced loveless marriage who then finds love with her husband’s mistress, Shug Avery. But it’s so much more than that.

Review:
For Black History Month in February I thought it was high time I got around to reading The Color Purple, which is also hailed by many of my friends and fellow members of the LGBTQ+ community as a classic for us as well. When I saw Audible had the audiobook version read by Alice Walker herself, well, it was a sign, and it was time.

I had always hesitated to read it because the plot summary made me not sure the book would work for me. Rape and incest are plots that I struggle with as is cheating in a marriage. But this book surprised me. It told what needed to be told about Celie’s childhood without dwelling on it too much or in a sensational way. And by the time Celie and Shug were getting together, I was rooting for them. Because how much of a real marriage is it when neither partner wants it?

There are many strengths to The Color Purple, but three things really stood out to me. First, it helped me to see the gray areas of people’s lives and experiences and how not everything is as clearcut as it might at first seem.

Second, the way Celie’s voice in the writing grows and changes as she grows and changes and then how the letters from her sister come in midway making it partially an epistolary novel – it’s incredible.

Finally how it explored the American “justice” system and its real impact on people’s lives and how often responses to crimes are racially motivated. It wasn’t preachy but it was very moving.

The only reason I’m not rating it at 5 stars is because, for me, it was not a life-changing book. I enjoyed it, and I respect it. However, I know for many others it is a life-changing book, and if you have been on the fence about reading it, I encourage you to do so.

4 out of 5 stars

Length: 295 pages – average but on the shorter side

Source: Audible

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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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2017’s Accepted Review Copies!

January 12, 2017 Leave a comment

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

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 2017 were submitted in 2016.  You can view more about my review process here.  You may view the accepted review copies post for 20142015, and 2016 by clicking on the years.  I view the submissions I receive as my own mini-bookstore of indie books. I browse the shelves and pick up however many spark my interest.

This year there were 60 submissions, and I accepted 2 books. This means books featured on this post only had a 3% chance of being accepted.

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

Before getting to the accepted books, I like to show the demographics of books submitted to me. This helps those submitting this year for review in 2018 see what I had an overload of and where they might stand a better chance of getting accepted. It also allows for a lot of transparency of my review acceptance process.

screen-shot-2017-01-07-at-1-44-54-pm

Although there are still fewer women authors submitting to me than men, the proportion of women is up from last year’s 38.7%. I would really like it if this could hit at least 50/50 next year. Of the two books I accepted, one is by a woman author.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

This went way down from last year’s 24.2%. I would very much appreciate any help getting the word out to LGBTQA authors that I’m actively seeking their submissions. Of the two books I accepted, one is by a GLBTQA author.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

This also went down from last year’s 29%. One of my top three genres of books read last year was GLBTQA lit, so I obviously would hope for more of this in the future. Also of note: both of my accepted books have GLBTQA content.

2017's Accepted Review Copies!

The top three most frequently submitted genres were:
1) Fantasy (including urban) 31.7%
2) Horror 30%
3) Scifi 28.3%
Note that books fitting into multiple genres had all genres checked off on their submission. I actually didn’t accept any scifi or fantasy books so remember when submitting that the most frequently submitted genre doesn’t necessarily correlate to most likely to get accepted.

The review copies are listed below in alphabetical order by title. Summaries are pulled from GoodReads or Amazon. Both books will feature giveaways thanks to the author at the time of review. These books will be read and reviewed here in 2017, although what order they are read in is entirely up to my whim at the moment.

31415667

The Eighth Day Brotherhood
By: Alice M. Phillips
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror, Mystery
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
In Paris, 1888, the city prepares for the Exposition Universelle and the new Eiffel Tower swiftly rises on the bank of the Seine. One August morning, the sunrise reveals the embellished corpse of a young man suspended between the columns of the PanthEon, resembling a grotesque Icarus and marking the first in a macabre series of murders linked to Paris monuments. In the Latin Quarter, occult scholar Remy Sauvage is informed of his lover’s gruesome death and embarks upon his own investigation to avenge him by apprehending the cult known as the Eighth Day Brotherhood. At a nearby sanitarium, aspiring artist Claude Fournel becomes enamored with a mesmerist’s beautiful patient, Irish immigrant Margaret Finnegan. Resolved to steal her away from the asylum and obtain her for his muse, Claude only finds them both entwined in the Brotherhood’s apocalyptic plot combining magic, mythology, and murder.

Why I Accepted It:
It struck me as a queered up historical version of The DaVinci Code, and what’s not to like about that? Plus the excerpt was well-written.

31829144

Peacefully, In Her Sleep
By: Milo Bell
Genre: Mystery
Notable GLBTQA Content
Summary:
June Godfrey is a widowed crime writer living a well-ordered life in Barling, a village in Sussex, England. An anonymous letter, received by June’s friend Angela, reveals that the peacefulness of the quiet community may be illusory.

The letter’s author alleges that Angela’s aunt, Jacqueline Sims, was murdered. June is doubtful, yet when she begins a tentative investigation into the letter’s origins, she discovers that Jackie Sims was no sweet old lady. Jackie had been an unscrupulous blackmailer, and many could have wished her dead.

June uncovers startling secrets, and becomes entangled in the disappearance of an enigmatic teenaged girl. She crosses paths with the kindly, gentle Detective Inspector Guy Taverner, and when they join forces, they uncover a staggering and unexpected truth.

Why I Accepted It:
What struck me first was how well-written the excerpt was. When I saw that it’s a mystery set in an English village and had notable GLBTQA content, well, I had to read it.

Congratulations again to the accepted authors for 2017!

Interested in submitting for 2018? Find out how here.

 

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: 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.