Adult · Book review · Fantasy · historical fiction

Review: Gods of Jade and Shadow by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

36510722Gods of Jade and Shadow is a fantasy story set in the 1920s. It follows Casiopea Tun, a young woman from a small town in Yucatán, as she travels through Mexico with Hun-Kamé, a Maya god. Hun-Kamé is trying to regain his throne as the god of death, but his closeness with Casiopea makes him more human every day; Casiopea is escaping her abusive and racist family for a free life, but being tied to the god of death might kill her.

This is a journey book. One of the main things I look for in journey books is atmosphere, and here it was amazing: from Uukumil to Mérida to Mexico City, I could visualize everything, and I always love reading fantasy novels that aren’t set in a stereotyped Englishland. It’s not like you can find books set in Mexico and based on Maya mythology every day, after all.
However, the setting wasn’t always enough to keep my attention, and if I had to point out what I struggled with the most while reading this book, I’d say that it was the fact that I couldn’t get invested in the relationship between Casiopea and Hun-Kamé, even though I really liked them as individuals and also liked them as a couple as an idea. Something got lost in the execution, but as I’m not sure what that something is, I can’t say if it’s more on me or on the book.
Also, I didn’t need so many chapters following Martín. Every time I got to his chapters, I put the book down and started doing something else. I kind of get why they were there, but sometimes they felt redundant, and Martín was a combination of unlikable and uninteresting that never works well as a main character.

As most of this novel is about Casiopea and Hun-Kamé going around Mexico and meeting various other paranormal creatures, some definitely less friendly than others, not getting really invested in them did make this journey not always that interesting to read about. But I can say that it was worth it, without a doubt – this book had one of the best endings I’ve read in a fantasy book this year, not because it was surprising, not really, but because it made sense in a way that made it powerful, it fit the story perfectly. It helps that I love when books go in that direction.

Another thing I loved about this book? The level of detail that the author put into everything, from the setting to the characterization to the parts talking about history – I recognized myself in Casiopea at times, for what this book said about what it’s like on a mental level to live in a strict Catholic environment and then finally leave, but what I really didn’t expect was to recognize pieces of the story of my own (Italian) family.

For example, the name Casiopea in itself. It’s a Greek name, which her town’s priest calls “Greek nonsense”, and… I have several ancestors who were named after “Greek nonsense” themselves and who were born around the time Casiopea was born. I never thought I would see characters deliberately not giving their children names of saints in a fantasy book, but I guess the Catholic church being awful around the world also meant that people tried to do the same things around the world to defy it in their everyday life.

I have more mixed feelings about the writing. Gods of Jade and Shadow is written in a way that should resemble a myth, but it didn’t work for me. It felt more removed than the average fantasy book, but it didn’t feel like a myth either, it felt like a halfway thing, and… I got used to it, but I can’t say I liked it.

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review · Fantasy · historical fiction

Reviews: Mooncakes + A Little Light Mischief

Today, I’m reviewing two light, fun and very gay reads: the graphic novel Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker & Wendy Xu, and the historical novella A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian.

36310834Mooncakes is a paranormal graphic novel following two Chinese-American childhood best friends, Tam Lang, a genderqueer werewolf, and Nova Huang, a hard-of-hearing queer witch, as they reconnect, fall in love, and solve a mystery involving a demon.

It’s a cute and fun read, if really predictable; I especially appreciated how this wasn’t only a story about a romance, but also about the importance of a supportive family, blood or found. Another thing I really liked were the small references to YA books, especially Asian-American YA books – I recognized The Astonishing Color of After, Forest of a Thousand Lanterns, Warcross and The Girl King, but there could have been others. It’s so refreshing to see references to things I have actually read and that aren’t necessary to understand the dialogue (which is my problem with many dialogues in contemporary American novels).

The art style wasn’t my favorite – it’s not the graphic novel, it’s me – but I really liked the color scheme and the atmosphere; I think it’s the perfect light fall read.

My rating: ★★★★

43386064-1A Little Light Mischief is an f/f historical romance novella set in London in 1818. It follows two women as they fall in love and get revenge against the man who wronged one of them.

It is part of a series, but I can tell you that you don’t need to have read the previous books to understand it – I haven’t, I don’t know what they’re about, and I had no problems with understanding the context. What I struggled more with was the writing style: English is my second language, and I often struggle with books that sometimes go out of their way to sound “older”. It is an added wall, when this already isn’t my language to begin with, so I connected with the story less.
I’ve recently read another historical romance set around the same time that didn’t make me feel this way while not sounding “modern” either, so this is something I noticed.

Apart from that, I loved A Little Light Mischief. It’s exactly what the title and the cover promise it is: a fun, romantic read about two women in love who also get into some mischief, and I love this small, recent trend of f/f historical romance that comment on misogyny and a little also on homophobia while not being about queer pain at all. It’s escapism, as it should be.

Also, I will always think that novellas are the best format for romance, at least for me. A Little Light Mischief is long enough to develop the romance but too short to need relationship drama or much more conflict, and there’s still space for a sex scene, which is the perfect combination. All the fun without any of the boredom, drawn-out miscommunication or pacing problems.

My rating: ★★★★

Adult · Book review · contemporary · historical fiction · Short fiction

Reviews: Two M/M Adult Books + Two Non-Binary Graphic Novels

After making a post with two short reviews of F/F YA books I had read recently, today I’m making one for two M/M adult ones (a novella with a trans main character and a historical fiction book with steampunk aspects) and two graphic novels with non-binary main characters.

Coffee Boy by Austin Chant

32146161Coffee Boy is a new adult romance novella following Kieran, a young trans intern who gets a crush on his supervisor Seth, who has himself a crush on their boss.

I don’t have a lot to say about this one, because it’s very short, but I can say that the romance was adorable (novellas are the best length for romance, it’s the truth), and that it’s so refreshing to read a contemporary romance with trans representation in which there is no outing anywhere in the book. There is some misgendering, because the main character doesn’t always pass, and there are some scenes about well-meaning but condescending and sometimes outright clueless “allies” that were… very awkward and very real, at the same time – but, overall, this is a happy story.

Anyway, if “younger person who can’t keep his mouth shut” and “older, distinguished grump who is actually secretly a mess” is your kind of thing, I really recommend it! And it’s for sure a short, cute romantic read perfect for Pride month.

My rating: ★★★★½

The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

22929563What happens when you care about the characters a lot but the writing meanders so much that you almost end up DNFing a book? You end up skimming. Which is why I didn’t enjoy The Watchmaker of Filigree Street as much as I could have.

It was as if the author felt the need to describe every single thing. Which, sometimes, was interesting, as I love details – especially when it came to the steampunk aspects, and the atmosphere was perfect – but for the most part, wasn’t. There were whole scenes that could have easily been cut, or maybe I just missed their significance because at that point I was so bored that I was skipping paragraphs. That’s possible. It’s just… how can one put together such a compelling premise, featuring historical gay people, steampunk technology, clairvoyance and bombings and make a boring story out of it? I don’t know. This book managed, and its characters weren’t even that bland.

Or – Nathaniel could have won the “blandest man of the year” award, but Grace wasn’t bland at all, if unlikable, and Mori was… unlike every character I had ever read about before, in a good way. The romance was also very sweet, and there was a mechanical octopus, and the book said so many interesting things about chances vs. choices, but this book was still so boring that nothing could save it – not even that ending, the best possible ending, or the fact that I knew it was going to be slow beforehand.

One more thing: I feel iffy about some things in here – it’s not my place to talk about how the anti-Asian racism is portrayed, but know that, if you’re interested in reading this book, there’s a lot of it in here (and, just like the misogyny in this book – which is also what you would expect from English people of the time, but still, ehh – not all of it is explicitly challenged).

My rating: ★★★

The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

34506912I wouldn’t have thought the day people in my country could walk into a bookstore and find a YA book with a non-binary main character on the shelves was going to be anytime soon, and I’m so glad to know that I was wrong.
I knew that book was probably going to be translated, seeing how the popular Italian YA books usually are. This one was, and I can’t even complain: it’s a graphic novel with a happy ending, one that doesn’t make a mess with the character’s pronouns, and overall a cute read.

It means a lot.

I’ve seen a few reviews say that we shouldn’t call this cute, or fluffy, because the main character gets outed. And I know. But this had such a light tone overall, and the main character is accepted by the people around him (the prince is genderfluid and both he/him and she/her pronouns are used during the story), including his family, so that by the end this story felt more like a reassurance to me – even if bad things could happen to you, you can still have a happy ending.

What I’m more annoyed by is the fact that books with this exact storyline (this one, Simon vs., and more recently Red, White and Royal Blue) or books that I really did found to be about queer pain (The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugoare the ones that get the most popularity and then are almost the only ones that could even get a chance of being translated, so that the message becomes more “bad things will happen to you”. But you know, we don’t really get to be picky about representation here.
[This is why, by the way, I’m so glad that Leah on the Offbeat exists: no outing or queer pain in that one, and it got translated.]

Anyway. This is a story about a dressmaker with big dreams and a prince who likes to wear dresses, with an f/non-binary romance, set in an alt-history version of Paris. The art is very cute, and while it isn’t exactly my thing – I think I just prefer more realistic stlyes? – I still had fun with this.

My rating: ★★★★

The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

42369064The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion prequel to the graphic novel The Tea Dragon Society, a cute fantasy graphic novel I liked but didn’t love. This installment convinced me a lot more. It features both old and new characters and just as many adorable dragons. The art is gorgeous, as always, but this time I liked both the characters and the setting more (there were fungi and beautiful woods! I loved that a lot.)

The story follows a non-binary main character who loves gathering food from the forest, and a confused dragon who woke up after eighty years of sleep. The story was cute, but what made it truly stand out was how it normalized queerness and sign language. Also, it’s so refreshing to read about a world in which people of many different ethnicities coexist and the world doesn’t always default to western customs – see which kinds of food was drawn and sometimes the eating utensils, for example.

Another thing I really appreciated was that this graphic novel said that just because something is easy for you, it doesn’t mean it has no value. More than anything, this is a story about community, and finding your own place in it, and I thought it was wonderful.

The only thing I didn’t love was the part at the end that attempted to explain dragon taxonomy, made a mess in which it mixed up species and subspecies, and capitalized specific epithets. I kind of wish it hadn’t been there at all, because I care about that sort of thing.

My rating: ★★★½

Have you read or want to read any of these?

Adult · Book review · historical fiction

Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite

42117380The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is an F/F historical romance set in England in 1816, and it’s currently my favorite adult romance novel. It wasn’t perfect, as I did struggle with the pacing as I usually do with this genre, but to read a novel like this one, about unashamedly happy queer women during the Regency era, was such a refreshing experience.

The main characters of this novel are Lucy Muchelney, an astronomer who runs away to London to translate a French astronomical text, and Catherine St Day, the widowed Countess of Moth, who accompanied her scientist husband on travels around the world and now lives in London, free of that emotionally abusive marriage.
I had never read about a romance with a ten-year age gap before (Lucy is in her mid-twenties and the Countess is 35, I think), so I was a bit hesitant, but I ended up liking these characters’ dynamic – they were good at communicating and solving conflict; the moments of miscommunication never lasted long. I also thought that the sex scenes were well-written, that one bad simile notwithstanding.

One of the first things that stood out to me about this novel was the writing: it’s so detailed and atmospheric that I wanted to make an aesthetic board for this book, and I would have were I able to do that kind of thing. From star charts to libraries, from embroidery to seashell art – there was so much beauty in this book, and I knew me and it were going to get along from the moment I knew that one of the heroines was a scientist and that the other was an artist who liked to embroider plants (and the Tapeinochilos ananassae is objectively a good subject, Catherine is right).

More than anything, The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics is a story about art and science, their similarities and differences, and the ways women were excluded from them through time. It’s not a book that tries to tell you which of the two is more important, it’s a book that talks about the importance and beauty of science while talking about how men in this era did many unethical things in the name of it, it’s a book that talks about the complexities of art while also pointing out that the forms of it that were associated with women (like embroidery) weren’t seen as art at all.
I loved this message.

For what didn’t work for me as much – well, the characters get together before the 40% mark, which is… really early for a romance novel, or any novel, one could say. And while I did appreciate how the conflict in this book wasn’t internal to the relationship, the book did seem kind of aimless around the halfway point. The ending, however, made up for it.
Another thing that I could have done without was the part in which they called an Italian character “Contezza”. Will Americans ever not disappoint me like that? (It’s “Contessa”, and even google translate can tell you that. “Contezza” means “knowledge” or “awareness” and even then, it’s a word I’ve never seen anyone use.)

My rating: ★★★★½

Book review · historical fiction · Short fiction

Not-So-Short Reviews of Short Fiction

Today, I’m reviewing some short stories and novellas I read recently.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark

29635542Egyptian steampunk paranormal murder mystery? Yes.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo is one of the best shorts I’ve read in a while. The first thing I thought after finishing this story was how I wanted more from this world, and then I remembered that the novella The Haunting of Tram Car 015 will be set there too. I was already anticipating it because I loved The Black God’s Drums, but now? I can’t wait.

Anyway, this is a story about an Egyptian investigator, Fatma, trying to understand if a suspicious Djinn “suicide” was actually what it looked like. It’s an atmospheric, beautiful story set in a world with a rich mythology and an even more interesting steampunk-like technology. One thing I loved about P. Djèlí Clark’s The Black God’s Drums was seeing the magic and the steampunk aspects coexist, and I think I liked the setup even more here? So much magic and mystery.

My rating:  ★★★★½

All the Time We’ve Left To Spend by Alyssa Wong

All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is a short story by one of my favorite short fiction authors, Alyssa Wong, which was initially published in Robots & Fairies, an anthology I had no interest in if not for this story – which has been reprinted on Fireside Magazine (and it’s free there!).

Like all Alyssa Wong’s stories I’ve read so far, All the Time We’ve Left To Spend is queer and haunting, and just as I expected, I loved everything about it. It’s about Ruriko, a Japanese girl who is visiting a hotel where the memories of the dead members of a pop band are preserved. The sci-fi technology was really interesting to read about, but that wasn’t the only reason I loved it.

I often say that I don’t like sad queer stories, and this is very much a sad story following a queer mc. It’s about a love between two women that can’t be,  about yearning and memories, but it worked for me. It’s beautifully written and unique and not just queer pain for the sake of it – the subtle difference between queer pain and queer characters being sad just like everyone else can be.

My rating:  ★★★★★

Alice Payne Arrives by Kate Heartfield

39332603Great concept, messy execution.

A novella about a biracial time-traveling highwaywoman who robs sexual predators with the help of her scientist girlfriend sounded like the best thing ever. In reality, this was so confusing that I didn’t enjoy reading it at all.

As usual for SFF novellas, the pacing isn’t great, and this story managed to feel both watered down – because the characters didn’t have any depth – and too complicated to be crammed in such a short book. This book is about a war between time travelers, and it attempted to explain what was happening, but I didn’t understand any of it.
I have to say that I’m not at my best mentally, and maybe that’s the reason everything about this book felt foggy. I feel foggy. But anyway.

I thought most of this book would be about Alice Payne, our sapphic half-Caribbean highwaywoman with a scientist girlfriend. It’s not. It’s not, and the girlfriend character is so flat that the “romance” didn’t make me feel anything. Far more space is given to Prudence, an African-Canadian time traveler from 2070, and the time travel war she’s involved with. It would have been less of a problem if I had understood anything about that time travel war.

This novella attempted to say some things about time travel and the difficult choices involved, but not enough time was spent on them. What about the fact that by avoiding a war not only you might create other wars, but you’re also erasing from history a lot of people who currently exist or that have existed? (Hi! I’m 100% sure I wouldn’t have existed had WW2 not happened)
I don’t know, something that attempts to talk about the ethics of time travel without talking about that will feel superficial to me. The main characters wonders whether she will still exist, and that’s all we get.

However, this book did get some things right. Not only the concept is awesome, so is the first chapter, and it’s also obviously well-researched. It’s also short enough that it never gets boring.

My rating: ★★½

A Human Stain by Kelly Robson

33181280I think I just don’t like Kelly Robson’s short fiction. I tried her novella Water of Versailles earlier this year and thought it was mediocre, and then this. I can’t even understand why it was nominated for a Nebula, much less won (when Small Changes Over Long Periods of Time, a story with… actual depth and queer characters who are not just There To Suffer, was right there!).

Anyway, all this managed to do was to put together a pointless, vaguely creepy but too vague to be actually interesting and cheaply tragic historical horror story that was disgusting without any depth to it.

I really don’t get this.

My rating: ★

Have you read any good short fiction lately?

Adult · Book review · historical fiction

Review: The Black God’s Drums by P. Djèlí Clark

38118138The Black God’s Drums is a novella set in alt-history steampunk-like New Orleans, which has become a neutral city after the Civil War ended with an armistice. This story follows young teen Creeper, a street orphan who, after overhearing a conversation that may upset New Orleans’ already fragile peace, decides to sell information to an airship captain from Trinidad.

This wasn’t easy for me to get into at first, because it’s written in a way that reminds you of how people spoke during that time (it’s almost as if Creeper were talking to you), and English isn’t my first language, but after I got used to it, I loved everything about this novella. The atmosphere is perfect, it makes you feel as if you’re there, and the steampunk-like elements are really interesting as well.
The Black God’s Drums is a vibrant portrait of a city in which African mythology meets nineteenth century technology, in which the tension from the war is still present.

The characters are also wonderful. Creeper is a young, resourceful black girl who has been touched by Oya, the African Orisha of storms, who speaks to her and gives her visions. I loved reading in Creeper’s PoV. The other major characters – Ann-Marie, a bisexual airship captain from Trinidad; Sister Agnès and Sister Eunice, the awesome nuns who know everything that goes on in the city; Féral, the white girl who grew up in the swamps (be careful: she bites) – are all awesome, and I’d love to read more about them too.

My rating: ★★★★¾

Book review · contemporary · historical fiction · Short fiction

Reviews: Queer Short Fiction

Queer short fiction (two novelettes and an anthology of short stories) I’ve read lately.

Second Kiss by Chelsea M. Cameron


Queer romance novellas are the best kind of romance. They’re short, so the conflict isn’t so drawn out it becomes unrealistic, and they’re less likely to have trite gendered dynamics and toxic masculinity everywhere.

Second Kiss is the story of Daisy, who works at the Violet Hill Café, and Molly, the girl who was Daisy’s best friend until she moved away for high school. It’s a very cute, fluffy f/f romance with almost no conflict, short even for a novella, and it was exactly what I wanted it to be.

One thing that made this story stand out for me – apart from the fact that no one writes fluffy f/f books like Chelsea M. Cameron – was the food. There were a lot of food mentions and descriptions, and I was hungry. Also some of the food was Italian and I always love when I see it in books because Italian food is the best food, when you don’t put pineapple on it.

There was a scene I didn’t like, one of the few that weren’t about the main couple. A side character tells Violet that romantic love isn’t really for her, and Daisy says something like “just wait”. I know that the sequel will follow that side character falling in love, and now I almost don’t want to read it. I’m aromantic, I had this kind of conversation in real life, and I don’t want romance books to remind me that some people think aromanticism is something you just grow out of (and maybe some people do, and maybe I will, but it’s still… not great to tell people they will). I understand that this is a romance trope and that the side character wasn’t meant to come across as aromantic, but that felt unnecessary to me.

My rating: ★★★¾

Long Macchiatos and Monsters by Alison Evans

23459908Long Macchiatos and Monsters is a novelette that follows the romance between two disabled trans people of color in Melbourne – Jalen, who is genderqueer, and P, who is a trans man – as they bond over bad sci-fi movies.

It’s a really cute story with ownvoices trans representation, but the writing could have been better – the time jumps were jarring sometimes and the dialogue didn’t flow that well – and I have to say that “let’s have sex in random public places” has never been a trope that works for me.

Also, Italian Nitpick Time: “macchiato” means “stained”, not “stain”, that would be “macchia”. It’s a small thing but I don’t like when English speakers get this kind of thing wrong because really, it takes just a moment to check.

My rating: ★★★

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages

35140599All Out is an anthology of historical fiction stories told from the point of view of queer characters. As a concept, I loved it, but the execution could have been better.

Before starting with the reviews of the individual stories, I want to say two things I didn’t like about the anthology as a whole.
There was only one story set outside the US and Europe, and all European stories were – with one exception – set in Northwestern Europe. I don’t know, as someone who is not American, I think this felt really unbalanced, and also: American history just isn’t that interesting if you’re not American.
My other complaint is that there was only one story with an asexual main character, only one story with a main character that could have been interpreted as non-binary, and no stories in which the existence of aromantic people was even acknowledged. I’m tired of seeing this happen, of seeing who is prioritized and who we like to ignore when we talk about queer people.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad we can finally acknowledge in fiction that queer people have always existed and are not a 20th century invention, but I wish All Out had been more inclusive and intersectional.

Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore: El Bajío, México, 1870 – ★★★★★
The best story in the collection, even if it wasn’t my favorite Anna-Marie McLemore short story. It’s the only one set outside the US and Europe, and it follows a magical Mexican girl who wants to save the trans boy she loves, Léon. I loved how there was no naked reveal scene in this, and the beautiful atmosphere and magical realism aspects were as good as usual.

The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker: Virginia Colony, 1717 – ★★★★
Girls run away from their abusive soon-to-be-husbands and avoid marriage to marry each other and become pirates instead. The characters weren’t developed at all but this was funny and very cute and that was enough for me.

And They Don’t Kiss at the End by Nilah Magruder: Maryland, 1976 – ★★★★
A story about an asexual black girl trying to understand her asexuality when she doesn’t have a word for what she feels. I loved how this story talked about how you don’t have to know everything about your sexuality from the beginning and have time to figure things out.
Also, I really liked seeing a story about an asexual girl in a relationship with a guy in an anthology about queer stories because I am not there for gatekeeping.
I didn’t care that much about the actual romance in this story, however.

Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee: Amsterdam, 1638 – ★★★★½
If you liked The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, you should read this story. It’s similar and just as funny and it’s great. It’s about an apprentice who is great at painting nudes – until he has to paint the guy he likes. It wasn’t as awkward as it could have been because of the humor and I loved that.

The Dresser & the Chambermaid by Robin Talley: Kensington Palace, September 1726 – ★ DNF
My concept of meet cute does not include fighting over a full chamber pot. The writing was just as awkward.

New Year by Malinda Lo: San Francisco, January 21, 1955 – ★★★★★
About being Chinese-American and a lesbian in 1955. I’ve heard Malinda Lo’s next novel will follow similar themes (maybe the same characters?) and I can’t wait. I loved the writing and how this was more character-driven than the other stories and had no romance. Queer romances are great, but there’s more about being queer than romance and I’m glad that one of these stories talked about that.

Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler: Seattle, April 10, 1994 – ★★★★★
Two best friends who are Nirvana fans are mourning the death of Kurt Cobain and also falling in love. This was bittersweet but also hopeful? I really liked the writing and I believed in the relationship even though this was very short.

The Coven by Kate Scelsa: Paris, 1924 – ★ DNF
How can something about queer witches in Paris be this boring?

Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake: England, Late Fourteenth Century – ★★★★
Robin Hood is a trans boy! This is told from the point of view of a cis gay boy who is in love with Robin, and I loved the concept and the writing but the plot fell a bit short for me. However, I loved the deaf representation and the found family trope here.

Willows by Scott Tracey: Southwyck Bay, Massachusetts, 1732 – ★ DNF
Boring and confusing.

The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe: Northern California, 1849 – ★★★
I wish I had liked this more. This is a f/f fairytale with a beautiful atmosphere, but the characters were really flat and nothing about this surprised me; the only thing I actually liked were the descriptions.

The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez: Tidewater, Virginia, 1969 – ★★★
I liked the narration in this one, but it was also 100% instalove – why does the main character want to run away with someone he has just met? – and the age gap was uncomfortable. On the other hand, I did like the main character and the writing.

Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger: Upstate New York, 1952 – ★
A story about an actress and a waitress falling in love in a graveyard and thinking about their future and possibilities. I found it boring, and also did we really need so many American stories? There was nothing interesting about this setting.

The End of the World as We Know It by Sara Farizan: Massachusetts, 1999 – ★★★★
This felt more like a scene from a novel than a short story, but I really liked it anyway. It follows two friends who grew apart as they meet again and confess their love for each other. I loved both girls and would have liked to know more about them.
Also, Turkish representation!

Three Witches by Tessa Gratton: Kingdom of Castile, 1519 – ★★★½
A story about religion and conversion therapy. It’s darker than the other stories but the ending is powerful – and also, it has nuns that aren’t straight. I love Tessa Gratton’s writing style and while this wasn’t my favorite story she has written (I prefer her fantasy ones, I think), I ended up liking this. It’s also the only European story not set in Northwestern Europe.

The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson: London, 1839 – ★★★★★
“Magicians” – both actual and fake – in nineteenth century London. This was one of my favorites not only because I really liked how the relationship between the two boys developed, but also because I loved the narration and because the boys’ feelings about their mentors were really interesting to read.

Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia: Luna County, New Mexico, 1933 – ★★★★★
This is about a girl whose grandmother was a curandera. She is trying to heal the girl she loves, but her own mother and Rosa’s father make things more difficult. It’s a beautiful story – that writing! – and the perfect ending for this collection, and I can’t wait to read more from this author.

Average rating: 3.47

Have you read any of these?

Adult · Book review · historical fiction

Review: The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins Reid

32620332The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is the first novel I completed for Marvel-A-thon (challenge: read a book with a green cover). It was also one of the book I said I was intimidated by. It turned out to be exactly what I feared it would be.

I could start this review by saying that this book didn’t work for me because adult contemporary fiction just isn’t my thing. I could say that this wasn’t my kind of novel, since it deals with American history and Hollywood and I care about neither. I could tell you that the hype ruined it for me, the glowing five-star reviews, or the many untagged spoilers.

All of those things are true. But the main reason is, I don’t like reading books about queer pain.
Yes, that’s it. I get enough in real life. I’m glad if someone can feel empowered by a book about people suffering for being queer, some of them dying tragically when relatively young because the author likes to toe the line with tragedy porn, but I can’t.

Why I think The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo is about queer pain:
The surprising thing is, this book wouldn’t have felt like that if only it had been told differently, but at the same time I can recognize this wasn’t possible.
The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo follows Monique, a reporter who is now writing the biography of the very mysterious actress Evelyn Hugo, famous for her seven husbands. This books covers all of Evelyn’s life, which means that:

• it’s very fast-paced and readable, but it’s also rushed;
• the side characters are never developed enough;
• I couldn’t care about anyone but Evelyn;
• I couldn’t understand why Evelyn and the love of her life liked each other so much

I couldn’t, because everything goes by way too fast. Almost all scenes we get of Celia and Evelyn are the plot-relevant ones, the bones of the story, which means that most of the scenes we get about them are about them fighting. And I don’t mean bickering, I mean hurting each other, sometimes deliberately. I’m sure their relationship wasn’t all like that, but if that is all I get, I don’t have any reason to root for them. We see the conflict instead of the relationship.

And all the conflict in their relationship stems from homophobia.
You could say that it actually stems from Evelyn being selfish and always using people, you could say that all of it happened because of Celia’s stubbornness (by the way: I couldn’t stand her), but honestly? The reason Evelyn was using people was to protect herself and her love from homophobia. Celia was stubborn because she didn’t know how to make this marriage work when everyone outside her found family was homophobic. Once we meet Celia, everything was about homophobia.

I’m not saying books like this one shouldn’t exist. I know The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo has been important for many people. I also know that I almost couldn’t finish it, and I still wonder how this book managed to hurt me so much when I knew everything that was going to happen and didn’t even care about the side characters. I don’t think this is a bad book, either: Evelyn is a very unique, well-rounded character, surprisingly complex, so manipulative she almost scared me. I really liked her, because she was awful at times, and I love when women – especially queer women of color (she’s bisexual and Cuban) – are allowed to be awful without being demonized. And while I think this format of storytelling is inherently flawed, I don’t think this book could have worked any other way.
This book just wasn’t for me. There’s nothing wrong with that; I just wish I had realized this before putting myself through the second half.

My rating: ★★½

Book review · historical fiction · Young adult

Review: The Unbinding of Mary Reade by Miriam McNamara

The Unbinding of Mar32295460y Reade is a historical fiction standalone novel following Mary Reade, a girl who dresses as a boy to become a pirate, before and after she met Anne Bonny, a pirate girl Mary will fall in love with.

I didn’t have any strong feelings about this book. Nothing stood out to me, and the only thing I actually liked about it was the premise.

When I read a book about pirates, I hope to find interesting adventures and people exploring new places, not 300 pages of the main character trying to hide that she’s actually a girl.

This book was 90% homophobia and sexism, and while that’s not necessarily inaccurate, it made for a very boring read. I guess I just don’t like books in which the conflict is “the main character is a queer woman and people didn’t like queer women (or women in general) back then”.

The Unbinding of Mary Reade needs trigger warnings for: homophobia (there is a scene of people being executed for being queer), sexism (a lot of it), abusive relationships (Anne has an abusive husband), transphobia and sexual assault, because crossdressing plotlines always end with a scene of sexual assault (predictable).

For a book about pirates, it had very little action, and the action scenes were boring, but not as much as the chapters set in Mary’s past – I’m here for the pirates, not for her crush on a boy that isn’t going to end up with her anyway, as this is marketed as f/f pirates. The backstory wasn’t useless, but I didn’t need so many chapters of it. I did end up liking Mary and Anne as a couple, but there was a lot of miscommunication up until the last 10%.

When the good part starts – Anne and Mary are finally gay pirates together – the book ends. Because queer women can’t possibly have adventures that aren’t about them being queer women, even when they’re pirates.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s great that we’re finally getting historical books about queer people, but this is just not the kind of story I’m interested in.

My rating: ★★