Reviews

An Unsuitable Heir by KJ Charles

Title: An Unsuitable Heir

Author: KJ Charles

Publisher: Loveswept

Lenght:  246 pages

Genre: Romance, Historical, Mystery

Score: ★★★★½

 

I find it very hard putting into words what this series, and this book in particular, means to me. Whenever I stop to think about it, my heart becomes unbearably full and I feel the need to start reciting poetry to the nearest person. It’s slightly embarrassing, to be honest, but I can’t seem to do anything about it, since it feels like this entire year was spent waiting for more of this series. I knew I was excited for the final book, but I didn’t expect to feel so much.

(Side-note: I will be using he/him pronouns for Pen, because while I believe he’d chose different pronouns if he had the access to them, these are the ones he uses in the book and it didn’t feel right for me to make the choice for him.)

When Mark Braglewicz, a private enquiry agent, is tasked with searching for the lost heir of the late Earl of Moreton, he doesn’t expect to find a soulmate. Pen Starling, the beautiful and joyous non binary acrobat doesn’t want anything to do with his earldom. He loves his life on the trapeze with his twin sister and his evenings with Mark. But with a violent murderer still at large, Mark knows the only way to save Pen’s life is to get him to claim his birthright. The decision taken from his hands, Pen is forced to put up with his new relatives, at least while his parentage is investigated. But the murderer is still out there, bidding his time.

I adore the characters. Pen. Dear lord, Pen. He’s such a wonderful, cheerful person who managed to retain his kindness and joy towards others, despite the world not returning the courtesy. He’s funny and full of love and all he wishes for is to be able to live out his life and to be left alone. His world is magical and full of colors and he managed to carve out a place for himself, where people respect him and his gender. And now that that safety is torn away from him, my heart absolutely ached for him. His experiences with dysphoria hit so close to home: the dizzy spells, the inability to look into a mirror or even at his own body. It made me feel raw and aching, with a desperate need to help him.

Pen and Greta’s relationship won me over in under a minute. Greta is fiercely loyal, protective, careful and so, so funny. Their mantra of “No repentance, no regret” made me tear up. I also wanted to applaud every instance of the twins not backing down under the hatred the older Taillefers threw their way, because they were magnificent.

Mark is someone I wanted to see more of ever since we met him in the first book and he didn’t disappoint. His quiet, calm acceptance, the strength and will to help and make things right for others. He insists he’s just a simple bloke, but there’s nothing unremarkable about Mark. There is nothing simple about the way he respects people, their boundaries and identities, the way he listens and strives to understand, the way he makes others feel safe. There is a good reason why both Clem and Nathaniel come to him to seek help.

The background characters need to be mentioned too. Clem was his usual wonderful supportive self, delighted over his new relatives. But for me, it was Justin who absolutely stole the show. He’s excited and enthusiastic to show how hard he’s working now. His budding, teasing friendship with Mark is delightful and he has some of the best lines in the entire book. Seeing how far he’s come made me want to cry.

Mark and Pen fall into the kind of comfortable love where it feels like they’re been together for years. They work hard on understanding each other, their quirks and needs and limits. They listen to each other and clearly communicate what they need. They flirt adorably and make silly jokes and horrible puns and my heart ached so, so painfully at their despair of being kept apart. They also had a beautiful case of body worship going on and I could feel some deep part of my soul being healed at the sight of a disabled character being treated with such a reverent care.

I knew their relationship was going to be beautiful the moment Mark took Pen into the Jack and Knave and told him embarrassing stories about himself. In one stroke, Mark gave him a community and showed him he’s not alone. Pen’s overwhelmed reaction reminded me of the first time I attended a Gay Pride, the way the sight of so many proud, openly queer people made me break down and sob my heart out. Mark gave him the best possible gift he could.

Unfortunately, while the characters, romance and the overall plot are amazing, the conclusion to the murder mystery isn’t. Without spoiling anything, I’m afraid the reveal itself falls flat. And while everything surrounding it felt great, the reveal itself made me somewhat disappointed.

An Unsuitable Heir was a wonderful ending to one of my favorite trilogies. While it has some aforementioned problems, the emotional resonance from the characters themselves was so strong I ended up not caring much. This trilogy brought me so much joy in a year where I desperately needed it.

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Reviews

Shade, the Changing Girl, Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy

TitleShade the Changing Girl Vol. 1: Earth Girl Made Easy

Author:  Cecil Castellucci  (Author), Marley Zarcone (Illustrator)

Publisher: DC Comics

Lenght:  144 pages

Genre: Comics, Science Fiction

Score: ★★★

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I’m honestly torn about this book. The art and covers are absolutely gorgeous, so I had high hopes. Unfortunately, they fell somewhat flat.

The story is a mess, that’s the only way I can describe it. Readers aren’t eased into it, most pages contain huge amounts of info dumps, which still don’t explain anything. Maybe if I’ve read the original Shade the Changing Man, I might’ve understood more, but isn’t it a point of reboots to attract new readers? I spent most of my time reading utterly confused and whenever I thought I started to understand what was happening, I was thrown another confusing curveball. And despite how dense to understand it was, there was barely any plot to think of. I’d almost call that amazing, if I wasn’t so annoyed. I really wanted to like this book.

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Loma Shade, a bird alien from a faraway planet (that is basically Earth but some of the inhabitants are aliens. Some of them. A lot of them looked like regular humans. No, it’s never explained) dons the coat of madness and somehow her spirit transfers to a comatose teenage girl on Earth, Megan. It’s never explained how exactly the coat or the “Madness” works, as far as I can remember. Loma decides to take over Megan’s life and finds herself back in high school, where she tries to figure out why everyone hates her so much. Surprise, turns out Megan was a horrible despicable abuser to everyone around her! Meanwhile, back on Loma’s planet we get a side-plot about a secret research facility trying to utilize the Madness for some sinister purposes. This side-plot actually seems to be the main plot, given how Loma on Earth literally doesn’t do anything but hang out at high school and terrify her classmates, but at the same time, it’s touched upon so very sporadically, I’m not too sure. Like I said, the story is a mess.

There doesn’t seem to be any direction to this book. Loma is a huge fan of Earth who wants to learn everything possible about it, but she never actually learns anything. It seems like the Earth portion spends most of it’s time running in circles, watching Loma on her wacky hijinks, wasting time. It’s a very pretty waste of time, but still a waste. It seems like every few pages Loma needs to be told again why people are scared of Megan (because she was a horrible abuser!!! We’ve been over this five times already oh my god), how to act, not to do magic around people. Also, let’s not get started on the implications of adult woman inhabiting teenage girl’s body. Let’s NOT.

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Which brings me to my other point. The art is gorgeous but also very confusing. I could never figure how much are people around Loma seeing and there’s never any explanation. Sometimes it seems that all the magic around his visible, sometimes not. It’s confusing.

The art really is gorgeous though. The lines are beautiful and the flat colours fit the style so well, it’s probably the best drawn comics I’ve seen. The art is mostly the only reason I kept reading, to be honest.

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Reviews

Abroad by Liz Jacobs

Title: Abroad

Author: Liz Jacobs

Publisher: Brain Mill Press

Lenght:  372 pages

Genre: Romance, Contemporary

Score: ★★★★★

Nick was the product of all things unspoken, all things fearful and untold. Don’t tell anyone you’re Jewish. It’s good, you pass, you don’t have the family nose. You have light hair, thank God. Your sister’s got the sad Jewish eyes, but you—you took after your dad. You’ll be okay.

To fully explain how much this book means to me, I need to tell you something about my family. My Armenian mother immigrated to Czech Republic in 1986, when both countries were still part of the Soviet Block. I was raised on a mix of clashing cultures, both with heavy historical baggage, be it genocide, communism, or generations of illnesses and disabilities. Growing up, it seemed to me that I had duty to my family, to my ancestors even, to get married and have as many children as possible, creating the next generation, to make sure we are still around. It’s a very heavy duty to place on a young child. There is no space for queerness. The way I understood it, there never was and never will.

I have never found a character more relatable to my lived experiences than Nick Melnikov. I generally tend to avoid books that seem to be too close to my life. I still have hard time unpacking years of self-loathing and confusion relating to my identity and I don’t enjoy much seeing that in text. But Abroad came highly recommended, and the cover is frankly gorgeous. I wasn’t sure what I was getting into, but I don’t think I was prepared for the way this book would steamroll me.

Abroad is a coming-of-age story following three protagonists and their university shenanigans: Nick, Dex and Izzy. Nick, a transfer student new in London, is invited to join Dex and Izzy’s group and what follows is a series of seemingly stereotypical college life. The story isn’t complex- they go clubbing, have study sleepovers, go on trips, and drink a somewhat astounding amount of alcohol. They fight with their friends and families, and get crushes. Where this book shines are the characters.

The protagonists are wonderful. Izzy is a beautiful, cheerful, and active chubby girl dealing with her newfound bisexuality while juggling stress over her film major and worry for her disabled mother. Dex is a confident, proud, and openly queer black biochemistry major, worrying about his little brother currently dealing with racism and loneliness. And Nick? Oh Nick. Nick is the reason I spent the second half of this book sobbing. His Jewish family fled Russia to the US when he was a child and lost his father as a teenager. His identity is tangled in layers and layers of confusion, fear and pain, all of it portrayed with a beautiful, heartbreaking accuracy. He tries to outrun his identity, but of course that isn’t possible. His journey is painful and cathartic and exactly what I needed.

The wider cast is wonderful too. The central group of friends is a bunch of lovable nerds who genuinely feel like a real group that exists. Of course, they have disagreements, but these are people who have lived and went through a lot together. On the other side, we have Nick’s mother and sister, whose way of speaking, mannerism and mentions of food made me miss my own mother painfully.

There are very few books that made me cry as hard as Abroad did. Reading it helped me release years of confused bitterness and pain that I wasn’t even aware I was holding. It helped me wish for more from my own future. It made me sad, and painfully happy at the same time. I need to see what the sequel brings, because I need these characters to be happy quite desperately.

 

Reviews

A Conspiracy in Belgravia by Sherry Thomas

Title: A Conspiracy in Belgravia

Author: Sherry Thomas

Publisher: Berkeley

Lenght:  336 pages

Genre: Mystery, Historical

Score: ★★★★½

 

A Study in Scarlet Women, the first in the Lady Sherlock series, came highly recommended to me. I love socially awkward geniuses solving crimes and falling in love, especially if said geniuses are women. Needless to say, I fell in love with Charlotte Holmes and the particular way she sees the world around herself, the way she cares about the women around her, or the way she is around her dear friend Lord Ingram. When the sequel, A Conspiracy in Belgravia, promised to go deeper, I was overjoyed.

When Lady Ingram comes begging for help from Sherlock Holmes, Charlotte finds herself torn between her loyalty to Lord Ingram and the need to help people. As Lady Ingram’s problem turns out to be her ex-lover Myron Finch, coincidentally Charlotte’s illegitimate half-brother, she starts feeling there’s more at play. Throw in unidentifiable bodies, mysterious murderers and possible poisoners, Charlotte realises she shouldn’t try to go into this battle alone. The story twists and turns in unpredictable ways and there were more than few shocked gasps from yours truly.

Charlotte continues to be absolutely delightful. It’s so wonderful to have a female genius protagonist who is allowed to embrace femininity. It’s also wonderful to have a chubby female character whose main passion is eating and not being mocked for it. Her primary motivation is still the need to provide for her beloved sisters. She loves and uplifts the women in her life and her relationships with them are some of the strongest.

Her relationship with Lord Ingram only grows throughout this book. The way these two are devoted to each other as well as some of the glimpses into their shared past made my heart and soul ache for them. There is so much confused trust and loyalty tangled up in pain and desperate longing.

Lady Ingram gets somewhat humanizing moments without erasing her horrible bigoted views of her husband. Inspector Treadle sadly only grows in his confused sexism and frankly, whenever he appeared in the story, I groaned, which is a long shot from my joy at seeing him interact with his wife in the first book, but by now, his behavior is irredeemable to me. Olivia gets some wonderful character development and becomes slightly more confident. Miss Watson and Miss Redmayne continue to be the best characters.

Books in this series have a tendency to pull together a series of seemingly unconnected cases that are revealed in the grand finale to be neatly tied together, giving the reader a glorious “aha!” moment. Unfortunately, I repeatedly caught myself thinking “wait, so what is the plot here?” which was a bit jarring. Additionally, even after finishing the book, there were some plot threads I was unsure I actually understood and I still can’t figure out if I should chalk it up to the plot being clunky or I’m just not smart enough. One thing I will definitely not excuse is the high number of povs. Six povs is frankly a bit excessive.

A Conspiracy in Belgravia has issues, but none of them took away from my enjoyment of the book. I’m honestly quite desperately hoping for the next book in the series and Charlotte and Lord Ingram have been occupying my thoughts for days now.

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Spectred Isle by KJ Charles

Title: Spectred Isle (Green Men #1)

Author: KJ Charles

Publisher: Self-published

Lenght:  271 pages

Genre: Romance, Historical, Paranormal

Score: ★★★★★

 

“I suppose you know you’re beautiful,” Randolph said, very softly.

The Secret Casebook of Simon Feximal is one of my favorite books. It’s a perfect mix of romance, interesting plot, and heartbreaking ending. It is amazing partly thanks to the unique narration and the melancholic atmosphere. When I found out KJ Charles is planning sequels set in the same universe, I was both delighted and worried. How do you follow up to that kind of book, that kind of ending, without cheapening it? You write Spectred Isle, as it turns out. As I mentioned, I had very high expectations for this book, and yet, it sailed right above them.

Walking in the steps of its predecessor, Spectred Isle has magnificent atmosphere. Set in 1925 during the Roaring Twenties, London is a mix of desperately hopeful people looking forward to a better future (and the irony of that is not lost on the reader), while mourning an entire lost generation and all their potential. Our heroes have seen the horrors of the War firsthand and will fight tooth and nail to prevent something so horrible from happening second time (again, the irony is lost on nobody). All the characters have been chewed up by the war in all kinds of horrible ways, and yet, they aren’t giving up. They are amazing.

Saul took his face in both hands, one still a touch slippery with grease, and kissed him. It wasn’t the hungry need of before, but a careful, serious kiss, deep and open, and Randolph leaned into it, taking what he was given with a deep, nameless relief.

Saul Lazenby, an archeologist disgraced in the war, finds himself in the employ of the highly eccentric Major Peabody, who seems keen on uncovering an arcane conspiracy behind London. When his previously nonsensical ideas start turning up results, Saul is rightfully disturbed. When those directions make him constantly run into the mysterious Randolph Glyde, Saul isn’t sure what is going on anymore.

Randolph Glyde, the last of the ancient arcanist family, is the current leader of the Green Men, arcane defenders, a role he’s woefully unprepared for. His entire family perished in the war, taking their secrets with them and Randolph is left juggling several roles not his, only because there is nobody else to take them. He and his group must ward off the power-hungry government and figure out who is trying to take advantage of the weakened veil between worlds to summon ancient evils. So, when he keeps running into Saul Lazenby in all the wrong places, he starts to suspect there may be more players on the board. When Saul is plunged into the arcane world, Randolph sees him for his true worth and the two team up to figure out what is going on around them, all while falling deeply in love.

Saul took his face in both hands, one still a touch slippery with grease, and kissed him. It wasn’t the hungry need of before, but a careful, serious kiss, deep and open, and Randolph leaned into it, taking what he was given with a deep, nameless relief.

Randolph and Saul’s relationship is one of the most beautiful I’ve ever read about. Based on mutual respect, it’s kind and soft, with a hint of desperation two somewhat broken people might feel when they find a kindred soul. They understand each other, what they went through in their lives and the scars they carry, but that only makes the other more beautiful in their eyes. They are so, so careful with each other’s hearts and bit by bit, they help each other to lessen the pain. The see the other as they really are, and are unable to believe they could be allowed the joy of being together.

Saul is an amazing character. He has been through a lot, and while accepting his guilt, he won’t let it overpower him. He has a hard time trusting others and looks at the world around him with slight impatience for nonsense, but he’s undeniably kind and soft around the edges. Randolph is scathingly sarcastic and dominant, but his demeanor hides deep hurts. He is almost painfully honest, but that only makes his kindness more real. When he stands up for Saul, we believe him.

The supporting characters are amazing as well. The mystery surrounding Hugh Barnaby and Max Isaacs kept me guessing and when I finally found out the truth, I screamed in excitement. Sam Caldwell absolutely stole the book. As the only remaining link between The Secret Casebook and Green Men, I was excited to see him all grown up while anxious over his family’s fate in the original book. Sam in Spectred Isle is a wonderful supportive sweetheart, bringing righteous fury to anyone who deserves it. There was a perfect amount of throwbacks to his parents’ life and I cried my eyes out whenever the Casebook itself was mentioned; it touches upon the erasure of queer lives from their own narrative and how important it is to not forget our own history.

Spectred Isle made me cry repeatedly. It is my favorite of KJ Charles’ books (and as someone who sold their soul to A Seditious Affair, I do not say that lightly), thanks to the incredible atmosphere, often creepy plot, beautiful romance with wonderful characters. The plot itself made me excited for more and I honestly can’t wait to see what happens next in the series.

Reviews

Fairytales Slashed Volume 8 (anthology)

Title: Fairytales Slashed Volume 8

Author: Samantha M. Derr (Editor), Althea Clare Duffy (Writer), Charles Payseur (Writer), Kathleen Danielson (Writer), Kodi Marshall(Writer), Lotus Oakes (Writer), TS Porter (Writer), Mercedes Vox (Writer), Stephanie Rabig (Writer)

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Lenght:  412 pages

Genre: Romance, Fairy Tale

Score: ★★★★★

As a big fan of the first two volumes of Fairytales Slashed, I was delighted to jump on the opportunity to read more. The stories were wonderful and diverse and the quality never dipped too low for my liking, which makes this the most consistent anthology I’ve read in a long time. In fact, the stories got progressively better and better, with the last story being an absolute masterpiece. I will definitely be checking out some of these writers.

 

Tam Lin by Kathleen Danielson– 3 stars

Somewhat weaker than the rest of the anthology, but a nice start. Anabiel was a determined and strong character, and her romance with Tamlin was very sweet. The pacing was nice, but I could really do without the repeated threats of incestual corrective rape. I don’t mind being tense when reading, but not this kind of tense.

Honor in Mercy by Mercedes Vox– 3.5 stars

I was quite surprised at a story about roman gladiators being included in a fairy tale anthology, and while I still think it doesn’t thematically fit, the story itself was very interesting. Noctua as the protector of the innocent, using his kindness to help others was wonderful to see and while his romance with Atlas the lion was only sketched out, I can imagine their life together must’ve been wonderful. The ending to the story was very satisfying too.

The Fox-Bride by Lotus Oakes– 4 stars

This was where the anthology truly picked up for me. I loved Qiu Yue as a protagonist, she was kind but sensible and was aware of story tropes. The fox was charming and delightful and their slow growth from friendship to love was well done. By the end of their trials, I was cheering for them. Unfortunately, the ending was quite rushed and completely ruined the pacing of the story.

Riding Red by Charles Payseur– 4.5 stars

This story was so funny it made me laugh aloud in a doctor’s waiting room. As a big fan of the Fables series, the almost juvenile style of humor was definitely my cup of tea. The modern pop culture interpretation of the fairy tale Jack persona always charmed me, so it was a wonderful surprise to have him included. And while the sex scene was humorous and well written, it felt somewhat out of place with its very explicit nature in a book like this.

The Nixie in the Well by TS Porter– 4.5 stars

The style of this one reminded me of the old Scandinavian fairy tales I used to read as a child. It was quiet and soothing and flowed well. I liked the kind and responsible Ida and Elfreda and her kingdom fascinated me. This story gave me such a quiet joy and I loved it.

The Sky Hunter and the Princess by Althea Claire Duffy– 4 stars

A wonderful story with a very intriguing concept and setting- a flying kingdom in the sky. At points, it felt like it wasn’t streamlined enough, and the addition of a third pov character for only one scene felt redundant. The main characters were brave and kind though, and their attraction was charming. With a bit more editing, this story had the potential to be great.

The Last Petal on the Rose by Stephanie Rabig- 5 stars

This story absolutely charmed me. I loved the characters, especially Janos and his kindness and bravery to stand up to those more powerful than him just to protect others. I loved the the slow reveal of what the war between the kingdoms really is about, and all the past secrets. And I liked that Janos was a disabled character and Roland didn’t treat him with respect, without erasing his disability. I’d love to read an entire full-length novel just about these two.

Sleeping Betty by Kodi Marshal– 5 stars, but honestly more like infinite stars

Sleeping Betty was amazing. The perfect ending to a wonderful anthology, I couldn’t stop reading. I have never liked the original fairy tale and haven’t read a good adaptation yet, but my god, this one was glorious. It made me cry repeatedly and I didn’t want it to ever end. Meg as the prince charming was a perfect combination of funny, combative, and caring. The way she learned more and more about the sleeping princess, Elisabeth, was touching, and the way she got angry at Betty’s fate was beautiful. So many lines in this story made me think about the nature of love and what we really want in life. The pacing was perfect, the ending absolutely stuck the landing and I finished the story grinning from ear to ear, joyful tears in my eyes. I definitely want to check out more of the author’s writing.

Reviews

The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix by Jack Harvey

Title: The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix

Author: Jack Harvey

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Lenght:  48 pages

Genre: Fantasy

Score: ★★½

 

The Scars of Jocasta Lacroix caught my eye with the beautiful cover and the premise- the main character telling the truth behind one of her scars to her wife. Sadly, the story kind of falls apart due to its inconsistency.

None of the behavior made sense for the setting and the characters. Jocasta was allowed to speak rudely to noblemen and generals without any repercussions, despite being a common mercenary. She was calling Lady Norringham, the noblewoman they were hired to protect, by her first name even before being allowed to do so. I assumed they were already lovers by the start of the story and was shocked to find that they weren’t, Jocasta just did whatever she wanted and got away with it because she’s the main character. Her behavior never gets questioned and it felt like it hadn’t even crossed the author’s mind that that might not be how things are done. Either give us a completely new world where the rules are completely different (although why said world would still have aristocracy in the same form as ours does is confusing), give us a reason Jocasta is allowed to speak this way to the aristocrats around her, or have her face any consequences.

Speaking of nonsense, every character kept acting irresponsibly in such wild ways. Jocasta berates her mercenary colleague for sleeping with a courtesan on a job, while she herself was seducing their employer. When an assassin attacks, she lets him go because she “sees fire in his gaze and knows he’s dangerous” in a blatantly transparent need to set him up as someone dangerous, despite her group outnumbering him and herself was doing a good job of holding him off alone while half-dressed. After the assassin murders an entire troop of men at the keep they’re staying at, the general lets Jocasta go off alone after him and agrees to wait twelve hours. Jocasta decides that it’s within her authority to make a deal for several nobles and the assassin, without any of their agreements. Lady of the castle is allowed to stay the entire day in her chambers, fucking a mercenary, without anyone even raising an eyebrow, despite everyone being aware of it. Jocasta gets stabbed by a lover and doesn’t even blink. Everyone kept acting irresponsibly and irregularly and it was highly irritating.

Jocasta herself was irritating too. I don’t mind cocky characters, but I expect them to either tone it down when the situation asks for it, or for them to face any consequences of their behavior, yet Jocasta never did. Her seduction of Gail made me very uncomfortable- she just started feeling her up and when Gail protested, she just over-ruled her. And despite being very confused and even uncomfortable, the next scene it gets mentioned, she’s suddenly a demanding lover. Apart from Jocasta, all the characters felt unmemorable, with the exception of Katie, who seemed like a character I wouldn’t mind finding out more about.

Which brings me to the issue of worldbuilding. I wanted to know more about the world, why Jocasta is a half-elf from a high-fantasy setting living in current day US, but apart from few pages at the end, we never get any explanation for any of it. We also never find out what was in the vault the assassin wanted to get into. The Big MacGuffin, and we never find out what it was.

Despite all this, I wanted to know more about the story and the world. I fully expected there to be a full-length novel explaining the events mentioned in this story and was disappointed to see that no, there’s only another short story, which seems to have the same problems as this one. I’d still love to read a book in this universe that has the space to do everything the author seems to be going for due to the constraints of the format.

Reviews

River Tale by Jau N.

Title: River Tale

Author: Jau N.

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Lenght:  42 pages

Genre: Romance, Fairy Tale

Score: ★★★★

River Tale is a wonderful and sweet fairy tale about a brave princess who goes on an impossible quest to save her cursed uncle the king, make deals with fairies and captures the heart of a river spirit.

I’m amazed how development, plot, and character the author put in such a small number of pages. While reading, you never notice how short the book is. The pacing is really good, moving the plot without rushing it or making the writing bare. The plot is also very stream-lined, perfect balance between lushly described environments and fast pace.

I really enjoyed the characters and their romance. Bakwa was a wonderful protagonist- sweet, and polite, but clever enough to research dangers of her quest and be aware of the common stories surrounding fairy folk. Sequana was charming and playful and most of her scenes made me grin. Their developing romance was gentle, kind, and sweet and I loved it. I also appreciated having both protagonists not conventionally attractive (I liked that Bakwa herself says her looks are mediocre!), that was a nice touch.

The writing felt a bit clunky at the beginning, but picked up as soon as Bakwa arrived at the magical forest. The story was a wonderful surprise and I’ll be definitely keeping my eyes out for more from this author.

Reviews

The Ruin of a Rake by Cat Sebastian

Title: The Ruin of a Rake

Author: Cat Sebastian

Publisher: Avon Impulse

Lenght: 352 pages

Genre: Romance, Historical

Score: ★★★★★

“Love involves making your heart sort of…available. Unprotected. And you can’t properly love a person who at any moment might step on your heart and toss it into the gutter. Or, I suppose you can, but it’s a bad practice.

What makes Cat Sebastian’s books unique to me is how kind they are, both to their subjects, but also to their reader. “Come on over, and be happy with us,” they always seemed to say to me. A new Cat S. book is something to be cherished, and enjoyed when you’re feeling down. Ever since Soldier’s Scoundrel, I’ve felt comfortable and safe reading them, knowing I could trust her not to let me down.

When a book supposedly based on Lord Courtenay’s exploits gets published, he gets denied access to his beloved nephew by his protective father. Seeing how hurt her beloved friend is, Eleanor Standish asks her younger brother, the very prim and proper Julian Medlock, to help repair Courtenay’s image. Julian, desperate to get back onto his sister’s good graces, grudgingly accepts the challenge. Forced to work together, they find companionship and hidden depths in each other, yearning for things they are unsure they deserve.

Courtenay and Julian are both wonderfully complex characters who, despite everything, absolutely belong together. If asked, Julian might say he’s a bad person, who’s trying to be better. He is manipulative, completely out of touch with his emotions. He’s bossy and cold, cares too much about what others think about him and hides his true self behind a polished and shiny façade. But he’s also fiercely protective of those he loves, capable, clear-headed, and so, so very smart. People tend to forget how young he really is, Julian himself included. But when he’s around Courtenay, he’s able to start growing into his true, kinder self.

Courtenay is sweet and kind, with huge open heart that tends to break easily. He has so much love to give to others. He simply cares, and it’s often his undoing. When his responsibilities get too overwhelming, he locks them away in his trunk. He’s unable to plan in advance, be it a simple question of lodgings, or the huge, terrifying question of his own future, that seemed so impossible. It doesn’t seem like something he would deserve, same as happiness. But with Julian’s care, he starts to remember his self-worth, his strength, his responsibilities. He can look at their shared future and see something he wishes to fight for.

“Yes, that was how it was when your soul was in pieces and somebody else had one of them. Only when you were together would the pieces fit into place and become whole.”

Together, they are able to find the strength in each other, the mutual support they need so much, to become better people and find what’s really important in life. Their romance arc is nowhere near finished- they still have much space to grow, but they are ready to learn for the rest of their lives.

Where this trilogy shines through the most, at least for me, are the outside relationships of the main characters. They live rich lives outside the romance itself, and they have friends and supportive families. The importance of support system is shown again and again. All the secondary characters were absolutely delightful. There are several parallels between Julian, Courtenay and their sisters that made me, someone who has a complicated relationship with their own sibling, very emotional. Courtenay’s friendship with Eleanor was one of the sweetest friendships I’ve read about in romance novels and I’d welcome an entire trilogy just about them. It was joy finding out Julian’s best friend is Charlotte Montbray from Soldier’s Scoundrel. Eleanor and Edward Standish’s romance arc was wonderful, even if they made Courtenay want to bang his head against a table in frustration. Again, I’d welcome an entire trilogy just about them.

Another of my favourite facets of Sebastian’s books are the disability representation. Always done with care, she has always outdone herself, and this book was no exception. It was wonderful to have something such as the illness presented in this book to relate to.

The Brigand Prince, the book that is at fault for everything that’s happening, was a really interesting framing device, although I wish it was present more. The few excerpts Courtenay read were fascinating. The mystery over the book made me teary-eyed.

The Ruin of a Rake was a wonderful final part of a trilogy and gave it the sendoff it deserved. There were kittens everywhere. Wonderful, sweet, cuddly kittens. The characters grew on me during the last year, and I will miss them dearly, but I can rest, knowing they are all loved now, and that’s honestly all I needed.

Reviews

New Super-Man, Volume 1: Made in China

Title: New Super-Man, Volume 1: Made in China

Author:  Gene Luen Yang (Writer), Viktor Bogdanovic (Illustrator),

Publisher: DC Comics

Lenght: 144 pages

Genre: Comics

Score: ★★★★

The New Super-man is a very solid book with some issues.

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After an act of heroism, Kenan Kong gets chosen to take a part in an experiment to create a government- funded Justice League of China, led by the mysterious and shadowy government agency. The story is interesting and keeps you hooked with its twists and turns, especially those involving Kenan’s father. Although, to be fair, I wasn’t a huge fan of the implications that freedom-fighters fighting for democracy are as bad as their oppressors.

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The problem with a book like this is that it needs a strong protagonist to truly succeed, and it doesn’t. Konan is, simply put, a bully. He’s a fatshaming bully. The book opens with him being a bully and he continues his behavior through the book, without it ever being challenged.

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(“The way he’s cowering… Luo Lixin used to look like that right before I beat him up. This is gonna be so much fun!”)

He bullies his classmate, calls his team-mate “tubby”, flirts with every female character to the point of unpleasantness, acts like an immature asshole and is overall jerk without principles. His character development come too late in the book to redeem him and doesn’t even touch upon the main problems.

 

Surprisingly, the team dynamics are very well done. Despite starting off on wrong foot and then constantly bickering, Kenan, Baixi and Deilan have a realistically developing friendship that was wonderful to watch.

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I wish I could’ve liked the book more, but Kenan made it almost impossible.