Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reading Rec: The Mystery of Nevermore

It is Pride Month, so I have decided to recommend a bunch of books that have LGBT+ main characters. Today’s book du jour is The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe, and this review is just in time to pre-order the third installment of this series, entitled “The Mystery of the Moving Image” (which will be out in September).

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Sebastian Snow runs the Emporium antique shop in NYC, and while he enjoys his job, he isn’t enjoying his relationship with a man so far in the closet, he won’t acknowledge their relationship after four years. His world is turned upside down when he finds a heart under the floorboards of his shop. The lead investigator turns out to be the attractive and mysterious Calvin Winter, but Sebastian feels torn between his old relation and the fear of reliving past mistakes. More importantly, a criminal is targeting the local antique shops and reenacting Poe’s most famous and macabre works.

If you like Hallmark Channel’s mystery movies or Murder She Wrote, the Snow & Winter series is like that but with the raunchiness level of a Lifetime movie. There’s definitely a bit of murder mystery cheese going on with this story, but this story is a hybrid between a cozy mystery and a romance novel so it is to be expected. In terms of the gore level, The Mystery of Nevermore has a less is more approach and instead focuses on a Poe-esque/literary inspired atmosphere. If you’re a nerdy English major who enjoys Edgar Allan Poe references, then you’ll probably enjoy the tone of this book.

The main reason I wanted to include this book in my LGBT+ recommendations is due to the representation. Some of you are probably like, yeah, okay, it isn’t like your recs are skewed toward m/m romances anyway, Kara. Wrong type of representation! Sebastian Snow has achromatopsia, which means he is totally colorblind due to his cones (visual receptors in your eyes) not working and in addition has other visual issues, such as light sensitivity and poor eyesight. This medical issue appears throughout the story, affects how Sebastian lives his life, and is not the be-all and end-all of his character! I say all of this because it shows that his disability was written well. In addition, Calvin suffers from PTSD, which is also portrayed in the story but to a lesser extent.

If you like Poe, cozy mysteries, and a steamy romance to round it out, you will enjoy C.S. Poe’s The Mystery of Nevermore. Grab a copy on Amazon before you go.

 

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Reading Rec: All Out

During Pride Month, I have decided to review as many LGBT+ books as I can that I have read recently. The book I’ll be talking about today I actually read in May, but because it was the end of the semester and I’m a professor, I forgot to review it. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages was edited by Saundra Mitchell and contains short stories from seventeen queer authors.

all out

Rather than discuss every story in this anthology, which would take forever and be incredibly boring, I’m just going to talk about a few highlights along with its strengths and weaknesses.

Some of my favorite stories from this anthology are from YA authors I’m already familiar with, including Malinda Lo, Mackenzie Lee, and Anna-Marie McLemore. McLemore’s story, “Roja,” falls in line with her usual tales, magical realism with a Latinx flare. In this case we have a heroine who is a witch trying to save a trans boy, the Wolf, from execution by the government. If you read my review of Blanca & Roja, the stories are completely different despite the similar titles. In “New Year,” Malinda Lo takes us into China Town during Chinese New Year in 1955 where a young woman has her first brush with a lesbian culture and the allure of a forbidden gay club. Mackenzie Lee’s work is always an adorable hoot and “Burnt Umber” is no different. We have gay Dutch painters learning from the masters while trying to master the art of not getting an erection while sketching nude models.

Overall, All Out is a fabulous anthology in terms of sexual/gender diversity and cultural diversity. We have characters from different cultures, races, time periods, etc. There are also characters who are transgender, nonbinary, asexual, bisexual, gay/lesbian, so there is something for nearly everyone. All of the stories were historical fiction due to the theme of the anthology, but the tones of each story are very different, which makes it a fun read.

The downside to an anthology is often the same as the good side: variety. There are some clunkers in All Out as well. “Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake was not the most uplifting story, especially when the only transgender character is facing a less than optimistic. The other story that sticks out in my mind as meh is “The Coven” by Kate Scelsa, which features Gertrude Stein but is incredibly dull, especially compared to the other stories in the anthology featuring witches. Often, comparison is what kills some of these stories.

Overall though, All Out would be a great anthology to use in an undergrad LGBT+ literature class, especially since all of the stories are written by queer authors. The sheer variety of sexual and gender identities lends itself to individual discussion of the pieces. Obviously, some stories will be enjoyed or understood more than others, but the tone shifts make this anthology anything but one note.

You can grab a copy of All Out on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: Unfit to Print

June is LGBT+ Pride Month, so I decided to review LGBT+ books for the month. I’m hoping to write 10 reviews this month, so here is number 5: Unfit to Print by K. J. Charles. I received this novella as an ARC, and Unfit to Print will be out July 10th.

unfit to print

Vikram Pandey’s job as a lawyer crusading to better the lives of Indian immigrants living in London brings a case of a missing youth. The only clues are a photograph of the young man in question and that he has been spending time with gentleman, in a manner of speaking. Going door to door on Holywell Street, Vik runs into his best friend from school, Gil Lawless, who now happens to be the proprietor of an illicit bookshop. Together they search for the lost boy and find they share more than memories.

I am a sucker for grumpy, uptight characters. Perhaps it’s because I feel a kinship with them, being an over-wound person myself. Either way, Vikram is one of my favorite characters thus far in K. J. Charles’ world. He is confident, well-versed in the law, a hard-ass of the highest order, and a soft heart. In the other corner, we have salt of the earth, Gil Lawless, seller and writer of unlawful smut who lives in the moment and lives with (note: I didn’t say owned) a cat named Satan. They go together like grape jelly and chili sauce (don’t look at me like that, it makes good sweet and sour sauce). Their dynamic is fabulous, but in the story, I wish there was a little more of them as a couple outside of the missing person search. Unfit to Print is a novella, so there is only a certain amount of space.

The mystery itself is well-written with enough intrigue and violence to keep you turning the page without being convoluted. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the Victorian pornography angle. Nothing in the story is described in a way to make it overt erotica, which it isn’t, but it’s an interesting topic in that the Victorians had A LOT of porn floating around for such a seemingly morally uptight society. The story touches upon the various avenues through which the Victorians met their sexual needs and the hypocrisy surrounding the industry as well as how vulnerable people fall victim to it.

In terms of representation, this is a win, especially if you have been following the ridiculous comments romance publishers have made about PoC being main characters. Both characters in Unfit to Print are PoC, and the theme of identity and what it means to be a first-generation immigrant are discussed in the story.

If this review tickles your fancy, you can pre-order Unfit to Print now.

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Reading Rec: It Takes Two to Tumble

June is LGBT+ Pride Month! That means LGBT+ book reviews, which means books I probably would have read on my own, but now, I’m making myself review them consistently. *drops voice* You don’t know how little follow-through I have while my house is a construction zone.

Anywho, I am a LGBT+ romance fan, so today’s recommendation is a historical-romance by Cat Sebastian entitled It Takes Two to Tumble.

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I’m pretty sure my first reaction upon finishing on of Cat Sebastian’s books is “That was so cute! I need more!” Her series are often the kind that follows families, such as in this series where we will follow the Sedgwick family (brothers mostly, it seems), and we begin this series with Benedict Sedgwick, unlikely vicar and free spirit, alongside the solemn, stern Captain Dacre as he comes home from two years at sea.

The Dacre children are hell-spawn. Left to their own devices after the death of their mother, they turn to terrorizing the town while their father is at sea. As a good natured vicar who devotes his energy to bettering his parishioners’ lives, Ben is called upon to wrangle the children into behaving until their father returns. Capt. Dacre reluctantly arrives home, not looking forward to facing the family he feels he abandoned and the house where his father made life miserable. He expects to see his children waiting by the front door as they did when his wife was alive only to find chaos and the vicar at the center of it.

I love the dynamic between Dacre and Ben in It Takes Two to Tumble. They are able to balance each other out without being polarizing. What I mean by that is that both characters have quirks and shortcomings that prevent them from being one-note. They come off as real people with idiosyncrasies, histories, and complications that muddy the waters of their relationships and their abilities to function apart.

On top of this, we have characters who are seemingly dyslexic. I say seemingly because it’s the early 1800s, so it doesn’t have a name, but it’s refreshing to have neuro-divergent characters who are able to work around their struggles without it becoming the core of who the character is. So far, this has been one of my favorite romances this year. Eventually, I will write a post about the importance of romance, and this book will be a core piece of that.

If you like romances where seemingly opposites attract, wayward children run amuck, and not-so-holy vicars come to terms with who they are, then you should check out It Takes Two to Tumble before book two comes out.

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Reading Rec: Blanca & Roja

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would read and review books written by and about LGBT+ people. I finished several books over the past week while the house was being torn apart (and still is), so expect a few more reviews to come your way this week.

Today’s review is of Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, which won’t be out until October. I received this book as an ARC at Bookcon (you can read more about Bookcon on my Patreon), but I couldn’t help but read it as soon as I got home.

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Blanca & Roja follows the tale of two sisters at the mercy of a family legacy where one of each pair of del Cisnes girls are taken by the swans. Blanca is fair and sweet while Roja is headstrong with hair so red it’s nearly black. Blanca and Roja do their best to trick the swans into giving them more time by trying to act the same to make it harder for the swans to pick which sister to take. Intertwined with their story is the tale of two friends who give themselves to the forest to escape their lives. Blanca & Roja is a riff on Swan Lake as well as Snow White & Rose Red.

What I loved about Blanca & Roja was how the story was aware that they were repeating history through the archetypal tales mentioned above. The fact that the characters are aware makes the story a little more interesting than most retellings. The style of the story is less fantasy and more magical realism. I feel the need to point this out because it begins more like a fairy tale and then suddenly there are cars and school. My rule of thumb for magical realism is to just roll with the weirdness. Swans steal girls in this world and turn them into swans. Take that as fact and move on. Stylistically, McLemore’s work is similar to Louise Erdrich and Maggie Stiefvater but with a queer, Latinx flare.

Her characters are archetypal yet realistic, and her worlds are full of lush texture and greenery. McLemore is a master of magical realism, making it easy to suspend disbelief long enough to sink into the world of her characters. Within that world, the characters are diverse and complex. Being a self-described queer Latinx, she makes certain to include characters of varying sexual and gender identity. These identities flow seamlessly into the work and are taken in stride by the characters without making a big to-do about it.

My only issue with Blanca & Roja has more to do with the back blurb’s representation of the characters versus how they are in the story. The blurb feels too simplistic and polarizing and does a disservice to the characters, especially Roja.

If you’re looking for a rich magical world hidden within our own with characters who are diverse and complex, you should pre-order Blanca & Roja before it comes out October 9th.

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Reading Rec: My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would review books by and about LGBT+ people. Today’s recommendation will be another graphic novel, but unlike The Prince and the Dressmaker, My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1 by Nagata Kabi is autobiographical.

my solo

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have seen my review on the preceding volume, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. My Solo Diary Exchange picks up pretty much where that book left off. We find Nagata Kabi struggling to become a functional adult– at least to society’s standards. Despite the seemingly sexual/sensual nature of the cover, this volume focuses less on the queer aspect of her life and more with the vulnerabilities and trials she faces in owning her mistakes and growing from them.

What I love about Nagata Kabi’s work is how she never shies away from painful or messy topics. Numerous shades of depression and anxiety are explored in her work, and we get to see the progress she has made since her first book. Unlike many other mental illness-focused autobiographies, we aren’t presented with a nice tidy life by the end of the book. Nagata Kabi draws herself as disheveled, tired, depressed, and frankly, a hot mess. She is unforgiving in her characterization. That styles carries through into her art style, which mimics the mental chaos with fast, scratchy strokes that obscure her sparse forms. Counterbalancing the darkness are flashes of pink, which lighten the tone and remind the reader that she is a woman and this work centers around a woman who loves women.

Her work is poignant and incredibly relatable (especially to many Millenials, myself included) as she struggles to assert her independence from her parents while working through something akin to separation anxiety, depression, and coming to terms with the fact that love isn’t always unconditional or reciprocated.

If this review piqued your interest, grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: The Prince and the Dressmaker

It’s June, which means it’s LGBT+ Pride Month. I decided that my June reviews will focus on LGBT+ fiction I’ve read lately. This really isn’t a stretch for me since 75% of what I read has queer characters and was probably written by a queer author.

My first recommendation is a wonderful graphic novel I picked up at Bookcon last Sunday called The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

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The story centers around Frances, a young dressmaker hoping to one day become an independent designer, and Sebastian, the prince of Belgium who is harboring a secret: he likes to wear dresses. After Frances creates a daring ensemble for a noblewoman’s daughter (much to the chagrin of society), Sebastian sends his valet to hire Frances to be his personal designer. Unfortunately, Sebastian isn’t quite out about his penchant for dresses because he fears his family (and his country’s) disapproval. Instead, he dons his new wardrobe and goes out on the town as Lady Crystallia, who soon turns into a fashion icon.

This book is absolutely adorable. Frances and Sebastian are warm and sweet and fragile. They remind the reader of that time when many of us weren’t sure where we fit into the grand spectrum of life and gender/sexuality. It’s written in such a way that the story and themes are easy enough for middle grade readers to understand without being patronizing or dull for adult readers. Honestly, I gobbled this book up in about two hours and couldn’t put it down even though I should have turned in for the night. This was due to the sensitivity with which this story was written while at the same time crushing the characters with doses of reality.

What really sells the book though is the artwork. Every page is beautifully rendered in detail and full color. The clothing is lush and textured and the backdrops scream of a Moulin Rouge era Paris. The art style is somewhat akin to what’s seen on Steven Universe but more realistic. The story itself is purposely anachronistic yet retains the historical charms of the early twentieth century.

If you like the daring costumes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lady Gaga, queer historical-fantasy, and beautifully rendered graphic novels, then The Prince and the Dressmaker is for you.

Grab a copy on Amazon on your way out.

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Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

henchmen of zenda

I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

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5 Favorite Series of 2017

After posting my massive reading spreadsheet, I thought I would pick a few highlights that I thought deserved more attention. Some of the series mentioned were not published this year but were read by me this year. This is my top 5 favorite series that I read in 2017 in no particular order.

Shades of Magic by V. E. Schwab

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Books in the series: A Darker Shade of Magic (#1), A Gathering of Shadows (#2), and A Conjuring of Light (#3)

What it’s about: There are 4 Londons: black, white, grey, and red. While red is rich in magic and luxury, grey falls into anarchy and ruin, white remains blissfully magic free, and black… no one has set foot in black London for centuries. Kell is one of the only ones who can traverse these worlds to keep diplomatic peace and do a little trading of magical good on the side. These worlds remain in a delicate harmony until Kell accidentally unleashes black magic.

Why you should read it: 4 Londons with mad King George III in the background, a pirate-aspiring woman thief, a foppish yet strong prince, magic galore, and so much more. What really drew me in was the dynamic between the four worlds and the characters in them. You root for everyone, even the villains/antiheroes, and at times, you aren’t sure who is a hero and who is a villain. It has a ton of action, but that never comes at the expense of world-building or character. The amount of texture in this book immediately made it a highlight for me.

The Winternight Trilogy by Katherine Arden

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Books in the series: The Bear and the Nightingale (#1), The Girl in the Tower (#2), The Winter of the Witch (#3 – forthcoming 2018)

What it’s about: Vasilia lives in the Russian wilderness with her family, honoring the old ways and gods of the hearth and home and of course, the winter king. That is, until a new priest comes to the village. Full of fire and fervor, he threatens to tip the balance of nature and all the creatures that stand behind it. Only Vasilia, who can see the spirits of the old world, can save Russia from destruction, but first, the big-eyed witch must save herself.

Why you should read it: Russian folklore, a young girl pretending to be a boy, a demon fighting his humanity, a talking horse, and lush atmosphere. I loved the first book so much that I screeched when I was approved to get an ARC of book two. The world is realistic and rich, combining fantasy with history seamlessly without sanitizing the past. There were times I held my breath from the tension.

Hexworld by Jordan L. Hawk

Books in the series: “The 13th Hex” (#0), Hexbreaker (#1), Hexmaker (#2), Hexslayer (#3), “Wild Wild Hex” (#3.5)

What it’s about: A magical version of Edwardian NYC where there are humans, witches, and familiars. Familiars can transform into animals but are treated as second class citizens and often abused by witches who can bond with them and use their power to create hexes. A police force in NYC seeks to stop magical crimes and protect familiars and humans alike.

Why you should read it: Foxy thieves, sassy crows, Irish cops who take no shit, Teddy Roosevelt (who I really wish had a bull moose familiar), an intriguing magical system, PoC representation, and a great use of NYC landmarks. The romances are so damn sweet. Not in a corny, saccharine way, but in a way that you absolutely love the characters and want them to do well and become better people. Each story focuses on a new couple, so you get a wide range of stories and personalities while still seeing your favorites in the background.

Sins of the Cities by K. J. Charles

Books in the series: An Unseen Attraction (#1), An Unnatural Vice (#2), and An Unsuitable Heir (#3)

What it’s about: A murdered drunken clergy men sets of a chain reaction of death, blackmail, and family secrets that threatens to destroy the Talleyfer family and those in their orbit.

Why you should read it: A very well done mystery that runs through all three books, diverse representation that includes characters of color, varying sexualities, a character with autism (also well done), a character struggling with gender identity, and differently abled characters. I want to gush over the first book especially because Clem and Rowley are just so sweet, and a well-written character with autism is hard to find. K. J. Charles pays wonderful attention to detail in terms of not only the setting and time period but the characters different issues.

The Captive Prince Trilogy by C. S. Pacat

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Books in the series: Captive Prince (#1), Prince’s Gambit (#2), Kings Rising (#3) and several short stories that aren’t necessary but are worth reading if you like the series

What it’s about: Damen is the heir to Akielos, but when his father dies, his half-brother kidnaps him and sends him to their rival power, Vere, as a bed slave. Stripped of his identity in enemy territory, Damen must navigate the complex world of Vere’s royal court and its equally complex heir Laurent. Laurent is more than his cold exterior, he’s calculating, strong and at the mercy of his uncle, the Regent. Together Damen and Laurent must find a way to win back their kingdoms.

Why you should read it: court intrigue, a slow burn romance, an incredibly interesting story structure (so many parallels you don’t notice until later), complex characters, an intricately woven plot, and an interesting world. There are some trigger warnings for this story, mostly involving bed slaves, but this is set in an Ancient Greek style world, so I felt it should be expected when reading it. The story is so much more than sex or sensuality. Court intrigue and war sit at the heart of it, which isn’t my usual style of story, but Damen and Laurent balance the story so well. Ruthless ambition meets bravery while both exhibit and incredibly amount of heart and humanity.


Well, I hope this post introduced you to a few new series you might check out. In my next post, I’ll highlight a few of the books I loved in 2017.

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Book Review: The Tyrant’s Heir

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Title: The Tyrant’s Heir by Kate M. Colby

Genre: Steampunk

Rating: 4 stars

TL;DR:Ā  The Tyrant’s Heir is a nice follow-up to the Desertera where we find Lionel grows a backbone and takes on a saboteur to secure his kingdom.


I received an ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review, but I also bought a copy as I am a fan of Kate’s work and believe in supporting authors I believe in.

The Tyrant’s Heir is the third book in the Desertera series, which takes place in a barren kingdom situated around a beached ship where the hierarchy rules and intrigue lurks down every hall. Lionel Monashe is the new king to the throne but ruling becomes a problem when with every decision, he fears his tyrant father’s old ways and indecision and hesitation becomes the rule of law. When a self-proclaimed prophet disrupts the social and economic order, Lionel finds his moral compass aligns not with the nobles but with the religious zealot. Unfortunately, not everyone in Desertera is thrilled at a change in the old order and some would rather see the kingdom under their control.

In this installment, we see many old faces, including Lord Collingwood, Aya Cogsmith, and of course, Mr. Farmer the prophet. Best of all, we get to see Lionel, not as the flirtatious prince but as a man struggling to be king against the legacy of his treacherous father. Through his struggles, we see a much deeper man than what appears on the surface, who has his own emotional and psychological complexes despite his privileged upbringing.

What I love about Kate M. Colby’s series is how each book links into each other so smoothly with one mystery being solved while flowing into another, and The Tyrant’s Heir leaves us with fantastic mysteries to look forward to in 2018 (why is it so far away?!). As always, the world of Desertera reveals new places to explore and new technology to dissect. My only quibbles with The Tyrant’s Heir are personal and stylistic. At times, I wish there was more description and the writing at the beginning of the novel felt stilted, but this disappears about halfway through. I also wish there was more of the prophet in the second half of the novel after the big spectacle scene.

Overall, The Tyrant’s Heir is a fantastic addition to the Desertera series, and if you want to see more of Aya and Lionel’s budding relationship or if you want to see what the Benevolent Queen has in store for Desertera, check it out and pick it up today.

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