Adult · Book review · middle grade · Young adult

Short Reviews: Short Books that Needed to be Shorter and Recent DNFs

37825422The House With Chicken Legs is a middle grade fantasy book following Marinka, a girl whose house has chicken legs and never settles down, making it impossible for her to have real, living, human friends. But Marinka has an important role: she is Baba Yaga’s nephew, and she must learn to help the dead pass the Gate in her chicken-legged house.

I picked up this book because it offers a really interesting twist on Baba Yaga’s fairytale, and I wasn’t disappointed by that aspect. Baba Yaga is not a terrifying witch, she’s a misunderstood grandmother, and the house is a character itself – probably my favorite character in the book.
I love seeing books inspired by Russian folklore, especially when Baba Yaga and her house are involved, so I really liked the premise of the story and its (moving) setting. I mean, who doesn’t want to read about a house with chicken legs surrounded by a fence of bones?

The House With Chicken Legs is a heartwarming story about grief and growing up. It had an interesting plot with some twists I didn’t anticipate, and I liked its themes and message, but I was a bit disappointed by the pacing – this book got somewhat repetitive in the middle and Marinka wasn’t that interesting as a character. I feel like I would have loved this book if I had read it in middle school, however, so I still recommend it to its target audience.
(I have to say that I could have done without the North African Mean Girls Scene, though).

My rating: ★★★¼

35565988Chord is a romance set in college between two girls who are roommates. The main characters don’t know they’re both attracted to girls at the beginning, but I wouldn’t say this is a coming out novel, because the focus is on the romance and little attention is given to the coming out scenes – which I appreciated, in a way, but this book really had no plot.

The first book in this series, Style, managed to be a balanced low-conflict, fluffy novel that had little plot aside from the romance but wasn’t boring anyway. But Chord isn’t low-conflict, there’s no conflict at all, and since the two girls realize they like each other and get together before halfway through, the second half ended up being really boring. I ended up skimming parts of it.

I really liked the beginning of this book. Chase and Cordelia were really cute as a couple, but what I liked the most about Chord was the way it showed how girls can be so oblivious when they fall in love or are attracted to another girl because they just don’t think about that. Also, the two main characters haven’t decided which labels fit them by the end of this book, and I liked that – there’s very little representation of main characters who are definitely queer but don’t know if there’s a specific label right for them. One of the two main characters wants to find one and the other doesn’t care, which I loved (no, not every unlabeled queer girl is bisexual and in denial, really, can we stop with that stereotype).

There are two other things I really appreciated about this book: it’s f/f with explicit sex scenes (I love how sex-positive Cameron’s book always are) and basically every character who isn’t one of the girls’ parents is queer. Also, Stella and Kyle are relevant characters here! I just wish the writing had been better – the PoV are really similar and I often confused them, there are many typos, and the dialogue feels often forced and repetitive – and I think I would have liked this a lot more if it had been as long as the novellas in Cameron’s Violet Hill series.

My rating: ★★½

Recent DNF #1

32714258Barbary Station has one of the best premises ever:
🛰️ Pirates! Even better, two pirates in space who are women and also engineers (women in science!)
🛰️ and love each other (established f/f couple!). One of them is black and butch, the other is chubby
🛰️ they became pirates because of student loans.
🛰️ and they have to fight an evil AI!

And yet, I couldn’t finish this book. The writing is dry and I struggled to focus on it. I found myself rereading paragraphs many times because I just couldn’t care about the details of the political stuff or the side characters.
Since I’ve mentioned the side characters: once Adda and Iridian got on Barbary Station, we’re introduced to more than ten side characters, and I started confusing them almost immediately. Was I supposed to care about the ones who died? How could I, if I knew nothing about them but their name?
Adda and Iridian themselves weren’t that interesting as characters. It’s not that they were terribly written – they were just a bit flat – it’s that the writing was so dry and dull that they sounded exactly alike, which is one of the worst things that can happen to a book told in first person PoV + dual perspective.

Some of the pirates hate each other because of a war between different places in the Solar System that ended a few years before the events of this book. Or so we’re told through graceless infodumps I skimmed. I think I was supposed to care about that too, but there are no stakes. The war has already ended and seems to have nothing to do with the actual enemy – the AI – so…?

There were two things I actually liked about this book apart from the premise:
🛰️ Adda and Iridian as a couple – women who love each other and support each other with no miscommunication involved are some of my favorite things to read about. Yes, the relationship having no conflict also meant it had no tension, but that wasn’t what made this book boring.
🛰️ The hacking scenes, if they can be called that. There’s a lot of interesting technology in this book, and it’s sad that I hated the writing so much, because hallucinatory hacking involving insects is a very cool idea and I wanted more.

I don’t like writing negative reviews of f/f books, especially if they’re genre fiction and not standalones, but I just couldn’t get into this.

My rating: ★★½

Other Recent DNFs

33503519The Fifth Season by NK Jemisin: More “on hold” than DNF, because I want to try this again, as there wasn’t anything wrong with it – all I’ve read was actually really good. I’m just not in the right place to read this right now, and I don’t know when I will be – sad books about people suffering because of systemic oppression are something I find difficult to read.

Creatures of Will and Temper by Molly Tanzer: Not only this was boring, I [a 18-year-old] also found it disturbing, and I don’t know if I was meant to feel that way about the main relationship.
I really don’t have any interest in debating what’s problematic or immoral in a f/f Dorian Gray retelling, but I also have no interest in reading about people younger than me dating people in their thirties.

A Torch Against the Night by Sabaa Tahir: I read the first book in 2015 and really liked it, but never continued the series. After three years and the first three chapters of the second book, I can just say that this series doesn’t appeal to me anymore.

So Sweet by Rebekah Weatherspoon: reading diversely for me also means trying diverse books from genres and age ranges I don’t reach for often – like middle grade, or, in this case, adult romance – and that’s something I’ve been trying to do more often. However, this just wasn’t my kind of thing – I don’t really know how to explain why, I just found the gender roles in this book [it’s m/f romance with a plus-sized black heroine]… exhausting? I don’t know, it was just really not my kind of romance.

Queens of Geek by Jen Wilde: this read like fanfiction, and not in a good way. I wanted to see ownvoices anxiety and autism representation but the writing was too awkward.

Do you DNF books often? What is the last book you chose not to finish? Have you read any of these?

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?

Book review · contemporary · Young adult

Review: Style by Chelsea M. Cameron

30332310Style is a contemporary f/f romance following two lesbians during their last year of high school. It’s 100% gay fluff and full of clichés, but that was exactly what I was looking for, and it didn’t feel like a story I had already read anyway. Not only because it’s f/f and there aren’t as many f/f books as there should be, but exactly because it’s both gay and as fluffy as it can get – and we almost never have that.

Style is a coming out novel.
That’s a genre I almost never reach for, it’s always so tragic. Yes, there’s usually a happy ending, at least in the ones that were published in the last few years, but the characters go through bullying, threats and sometimes even sexual assault before getting acceptance.
Style avoids all the sad tropes that are common in this genre. In here, you’ll find no bullying, no people outed against their will, no deep miscommunication, no cheating, no terrible parents, and not even the dramatic break-up that seems to be the prepackaged ending of every single romance novel.
Style is unique because it uses all the clichés of the typical high school romance, but for lesbians, and it’s a story as happy as the ones straight people get. This meant that it’s a very low-conflict book, but I didn’t care at all.

Stella and Kyle are the cutest couple ever (yes, the title of this book is their OTP name; it’s that cheesy and I love it for that). They are the typical cheerleader/nerd pairing, except gayer, and with some more depth. I loved seeing Kyle’s journey in discovering her sexuality, and how Stella was able to realize she didn’t need to push everyone away all the time, but what I truly loved was their dynamic as a couple. The lighthouse scene was beautiful and I’m not even a romantic person.
(about that: there was some amatonormativity[¹] sometimes, but it was nowhere near as bad as it could have been.)
Also, it’s a sex-positive book – there are both a explicit-for-YA-standards sex scene and talk of female masturbation.

Style wasn’t perfect by any means – the writing wasn’t always the best and the two first-person PoVs sounded and read the same, so I was often confused and didn’t always understand who was narrating – but it is exactly the cute cliché romance it’s supposed to be and fulfills that role well.

[¹] the assumption that everyone wants or needs romantic love and that everyone wants or needs to be in a romantic relationship.

I read Style for the “read a book with multiple PoVs” challenge of Marvel-A-Thon.

My rating: ★★★★¼