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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.

princedressmaker

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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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;DRThe 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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Book Review: Spectred Isle

spectred isle

Title: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1) by K. J. Charles

Genre: Historical-fantasy, historical-romance, LGBT fiction, LGBT romance

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

Tl;DR: Spectred Isle fantastically blends the pain and trauma of war with the hope and healing that only nature and human connection can bring while still imbuing the story with a piping mystery.


First off, I have to say that I was given an ARC of Spectred Isle in exchange for an honest review, but I still pre-ordered a copy because I love K. J. Charles’ work and want to support my favorite authors.

Spectred Isle follows the story of Saul Lazenby and Randolph Glyde as their lives intersect in a post-WWI world where magic and monsters lurk beneath the surface. Saul has been deeply scarred by his experiences in the war where he was less than honorably discharged. Facing bleak prospects, the ex-archaeologist becomes employed by a rather odd older gentleman who has him running all over creation chasing some rather wild theories about a very (maybe very) dead lord. His life is rather humdrum until he visits a sacred tree, which spontaneously bursts into flames, and spots the handsome, old money (and magic) Randolph Glyde. Randolph has secrets and scars of his own, but those roots run far deeper in England’s history, and as the mystery of the burning tree deepens, Randolph must decide if Saul, too, is a secret worth keeping.

As a heads-up, if you haven’t read The Secret Case Book of Simon Fleximal, you probably should. The book is less a sequel and more of a spiritual successor (much like the characters), so if you want to be in the know about certain characters, it would behoove you to read it. Plus, it’s just damn good.

What I loved about Spectred Isle was the balance between human connection and healing from past traumas and the British mentality of keeping a stiff upper lip. Neither Saul nor Randolph are the type to fall to pieces, but they need help moving forward from the carnage both suffered. Charles does a good job of having those traumas be very different, and both play nicely into their characterization. In the story, we also meet several other characters who have been psychologically and physically changed by the war and the occult war that was waged beneath the war waged by normal soldiers. I loved how this juxtaposed with post-war bureaucracy and the ancient magic the Glydes wield.

I think because I really love Charles’ characters, I felt like the book went too fast, especially at the end. What I really wanted was more about the green men, how they tie to Glyde’s family, and what function they really serve in England. I know it’s the first book, but I also know that K. J. Charles usually focused on a different couple each book, so I worry I will never get my answers.

If you like old Hollywood movies (think 1920s-1940s), this book has that sort of Basil Rathbone as Sherlock Holmes on the modern moors feel to it. Spectred Isle is a great start to a new historical-fantasy series, and I, for one, am dying to get my mitts on the next one. Pick Spectred Isle up here or whatever platform you buy your books. It is officially out August 3rd.

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Book Review: The Courtesan’s Avenger

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Title: The Courtesan’s Avenger by Kate M. Colby

Genre: Steampunk

Rating: 4 stars

TL;DR:  The Courtesan’s Avenger is a tale of murder, redemption, revenge, and intrigue all wrapped up in the corset strings of Dellwyn Rutt.


The Courtesan’s Avenger follows Dellwyn Rutt as she journeys from courtesan to murder suspect to detective in order to solve a brutal murder at the Rudder, Desertera’s respectable house of prostitution. Overlying this tale of murder and greed are social questions surrounding mortality (especially regarding sex, the definition of “good” or “purity”), a hint of love/romance in all of its complicated glory, and a hint as to what is in store for Dellwyn, Aya, and young Sybil.
What I always love about Colby’s work is how she weaves in her world-building into the plots of her works. It’s expertly done in The Courtesan’s Avenger as we learn more about the changing culture under King Lionel’s leadership. Her characters shine in the desert, appearing alive, unique, and of course, strong-willed. Dellwyn is lively, independent, determined, and a good person. Without giving too much away, those skills will be key on her journey and future journeys in the rest of the series.
While I greatly enjoyed the story, I often found the sexual overtones a bit off-putting. This is a personal preference that probably won’t bother most, but for me, I had a hard time getting through the first half of the story. Eventually, the tone changes, but the initial overt sexuality and the ugly side of Dellwyn’s job are necessary to the plot.
Overall, The Courtesan’s Avenger is a great addition to the Desertera series, and I can’t wait to read the next one.

If you would like to purchase it. You can find it here on Amazon.

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Book Review: Monstress

Monstress

Title: Monstress by Marjorie Liu and Sana Takeda

Genre: Fantasy/Graphic novel

Rating: 4.5 stars

TL;DR: Monstress was fantastic. A dark and gritty story offset by absolutely gorgeous artwork.


Monstress follows the story of Maika Halfwolf, a woman who is half-human and half-monster with powers lurking inside her beyond compare. For this, she is hunted mercilessly because to possess her is to possess a power that could rebuild or destroy the world.
At first glance, Monstress might appear to be a traditional anime/manga style human-monster hybrid, but it’s so much more complex than that. The world is rich with detail, and the asides at the end of each chapter help to fill-in the gaps that the authors couldn’t cram into the storyline, which frees them up to focus on the action, world-building, and characters.
We meet Maika, who is, to put it simply, very pissed. Her memory is spotty, everyone is trying to kill her, and there’s a monster inside her threatening to take over. I’d be pissed too, but Maika is more than the usual tsundere type. She’s strong physically, but what future books will focus on her emotional growth. To balance Maika’s blind rage, we have a bubbly, naively optimistic fox-child and a calculating cat who keeps them together.
What I love about Monstress involves more than just the main characters. I am in love with the world. There’s a richness to it, a complexity beyond the surface not often seen in graphic novels. This richness arises from the political and historical background that informs the actions of the characters in Monstress and carries through in the art style. Sana Takeda’s art is beautiful. It is a mixture of art nouveau, art deco, and Japanese mechanica all interwoven with a thread of the traditional manga aesthetic. After reading the book, I know I will go back and examine every picture for details I missed. There’s also an added layer of diversity in the story. I don’t think I’ve seen so many female characters in roles of power, and in this story, it works without seeming odd or forced. Witches and monstresses have been part of literature and mythology for centuries, and they are usually worse than their male counterparts. Monstress is no different. You’ll also find that characters are diverse in terms of ethnicity, species, and sexuality.
I can’t wait to read volume 2 when it comes out. If you like graphic novels that are not only beautiful but stuffed with action, then Monstress is for you.

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Book Review: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet

mbms
Title: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet by Charlie N. Holmberg

Genre: Fantasy

Rating: ♥ ♥

TL;DR: Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet is a fantasy story that features magic and a hundred pages of Sisyphean punishment that made it a tough read that was not redeemed by a quick and clean ending.


I received a copy of this book through Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.

Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet opens with the tale of Maire, who is able to enchant magical treats in her bakery, but Maire is more than she appears. Four years ago she appeared in town as if dropped from the heavens with no memory of who she was besides her name. Soon, Maire finds herself a slave, sold to a strange and primitive master who forces her to create magical treats while holding her wholly under his control. To be free and find her true identity, Maire must trust otherworldly beings and escape the clutches of her captor.

When I saw Magic Bitter, Magic Sweet on Net Galley, I was incredibly excited. I have Holmberg’s Paper Magician series on my to-be-read pile and thought I would love this based on the description, but I found MBMS to drag horribly and I nearly gave up around 30%.

The majority of the book is mostly Maire suffering at the hands of her captor. It reads like Sisyphus pushing his boulder up hill only to have it roll back. Maire gets instructions from the mysterious, ethereal Fyel on how she can possibly escape, and instead, she doesn’t do it, which leads to more suffering. I read through all of her tasks, cursing her for her stupidity and feeling very little sympathy for her. Poor battered, maimed Maire is a glutton for punishment, and I was completely over it by the halfway point. At the very end, when Maire is putting the pieces together from her memory, all of her tasks seem to have a purpose, but every pointless task is made relevant and done with within a few paragraphs. It was too clean and not worth the hundred pages of drudgery for the reader.

The other incredibly off-putting aspect of MBMS is that the antagonist appears to be a mentally handicapped man. He’s violent, called stupid by Maire, and is treated like a freak and a horrible person for at least 80% of the book. It just didn’t feel right. In the end, his handicap makes sense, but it made me incredibly uncomfortable. Can we really hold a mentally handicapped person responsible for their actions? Should we judge them like they’re normal? Maire tries to understand, but it reminded me of Lennie from Of Mice and Men. The handicapped hulking killer trope shouldn’t be revived.

In the last three chapters, everything comes together so neatly and quickly. It would have been a better experience for me if the beginning had been shorter and the info/flashbacks had been sprinkled in throughout the story. The relationship between Maire and her captor makes me wonder if the author was trying to grapple with a personal experience. I won’t mention what because it could give the ending away, but its deeply personal message hindered the story. Holmberg simply spent too long punishing Maire and the reader.

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Book Review: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men

99 righteous men

Title: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men by K. M. Claude

Genre: Horror, graphic novel

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ +0.5

Tl;DR: Ninety-Nine Righteous Men perfectly blends the tragedy of unrequited love with Gothic horror into a beautifully illustrated graphic novel that can only be described as a Catholic’s nightmare.


You know a book is good when you dock half a star for not being long enough.

K. M. Claude’s graphic novel begins with two somewhat unlikely heroes, priests Daniel and Adam, who have a rather tumultuous and complicated past together, as they are drawn into the web of a demon possessing one of the parishioners. What transpires is a tale of tormented souls united by lust’s cruel embrace.

The art style for Ninety-Nine Righteous Men is gorgeous. It’s a style reminiscent of both Eastern and Western comics by utilizing a more Western anatomical style with a more manga-like action style. What Claude creates is some impressive juxtapositions with the rigid piousness of Catholic imagery alongside the pliant sensuality of the demon. At times, I’m hesitant to read graphic novels because I typically hate the style of traditional Western comics (mainly the gritty, rather sloppy style of super hero comics), but Claude’s art style is clean, precise, and deliciously detailed.

One of the things I greatly appreciated was the balance between sensuality, sexuality, and the quiet moments of action and dialogue. When I first began reading, I worried the entire graphic novel would be reminiscent of the game Catherine, but Claude deftly balances all aspects of the work until it comes to a head at the climax (puns intended).

As an ex-Catholic, I felt comfortable in the discomfort of Adam and Daniel’s wholly Catholic world. Often what disturbs them, disturbs me, and Claude highlights the rather gruesome aspects of Catholicism that tend to disturb small children with wandering eyes. While what’s discussed in the book might anger some more devout Catholics, we must all remember that priests are humans and should be treated as such. If you’re a fan of Anne Rice’s style of sensual Southern Gothic with Catholic guilt, you’ll probably enjoy Ninety-Nine Righteous Men.

My biggest complaint with the book is a good one. I wanted more. I didn’t want the book to end. I wanted more on Daniel and Adam’s backstories, their lives before the priesthood, their encounters together, and even Caleb’s life before the story takes place. While the characters are well fleshed-out, I think they could have been explored more.

Ninety-Nine Righteous Men is a unique tale of lust, love, and sacrifice through the lens of the Gothic, and I look forward to reading more by K. M. Claude in the future.

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Book Review: Write. Publish. Repeat.

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Title: Write. Publish. Repeat.: The No-Luck-Required Guide to Self-publishing Success by Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant with David Wright

Genre: Writing, non-fiction

Rating: ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

TL;DR: Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author’s dream in terms of a straight-forward how-to book for marketing, building an audience, and creating a writing empire.


I love Sean Platt and Johnny B. Truant. This is the first of their books that I’ve read. I picked this one up on a recommendation from several other authors, and I am so glad I did.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an extensive book, covering the self-publishing/publishing as an industry, how to look professional, what to do, what not to do, marketing, and probably every other topic under the sun that an indie author could want to know about.
The information is laid out in an easy to follow manner with each section of the book being devoted to a certain topic, and while the authors say there may be some back-tracking and double covering of topics, I didn’t notice. The tone is conversational and most importantly common-sensical. Platt and Truant pull from their own experiences as indie authors as well as those of their friends and fellow authors to illustrate how to an author can make it in the industry by achieving certain manageable goals. The book certainly isn’t a get-rich-quick scheme or a sensationalized how-to-make-millions-with-a-shitty-but-marketable-book book. Truant and Platt don’t play that way, and they remind the reader of that.
Write. Publish. Repeat. relies on an author understanding a few finer points: be adaptable, work hard, and be yourself without being an asshole because no body likes those.
People who should read this book: Indie authors of any range (new, moderately successful, successful, thinking of possibly maybe publishing) and traditionally published authors who need to learn how to market their book professionally or would like to know about more publishing options or would simply like to build their brand. I’m thinking especially of authors published by small presses.
People who shouldn’t read this book: people who want fame and fortune with one book, people who aren’t in it for the long haul, quitters, whiners, literati types, and people who can’t deal with occasional profanity.
Write. Publish. Repeat. is an indie author staple. The advice within in it is straight-forward, doable, and for the most part, painless. If you’re even thinking about going indie, read it.

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