Reviews

Walking on Knives by Maya Chhabra

Title: Walking on Knives

Author: Maya Chhabra

Publisher: Less Than Three Press

Lenght:  32 pages

Genre: Romance, Fantasy, Fairy Tale

Score: ★★

Walking on Knives had the potential to be a great story. A queer retelling of Little Mermaid where she falls in love with the Witch sounds amazing, but sadly, it didn’t live up to its promise and left me feeling upset.

The writing is vague and confusing, with constantly switching povs, which only added to the confusion. It didn’t help that the character voices didn’t differ at all, so it was difficult to tell who is speaking most of the time. There was also a problem with the names. Characters have descriptive name, such as the Prince, the Princess, or the Strange Woman. It wouldn’t be a problem if they were used consistently, but they weren’t.

The romance made me angry. We are never given any reason the Strange Woman fell in love with the Little Mermaid, she just does. She was unpleasant and possessive about it. Little Mermaid was rightly wary of her and avoided her, but all it took was one “I love you” for her to do complete 360° and proclaim her love too. Without any development, they are thrown into a sudden HEA that makes no sense.

The book opens with the Little Mermaid getting raped. That’s literally the first scene in the book. I don’t understand why the Sea Witch requires rape as a payment for her services, but it sets the tone for the rest of the book. Little Mermaid is clearly traumatized by said event and the Strange Woman, fully aware of what happened to her, treats her with scorn and annoyance. When she lightly asks for a kiss as a payment for a gift and Little Mermaid has a triggered reaction, she barely stops herself from calling her names. This is from the love interest.

Another, somewhat even worse scene happens when the Prince decides to save Little Mermaid’s life by marrying her, despite being in love with the Princess and being supposed to marry her the next day. They are forced to consummate their marriage (why was that necessary??) in a scene that left me deeply unsettled and left the Prince clearly fucked up. And for his act of kindness, he loses his own future with his beloved Princess. He doesn’t get any closure and we’re supposed to be okay with that.

All in all, Walking on Knives was short but managed to be crammed with unpleasant things and left me feeling very uncomfortable.

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Reviews

Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best

Title: Teen Titans Vol. 1: Damian Knows Best

AuthorBenjamin Percy (Writer), Khoi Pham (Illustrator), Jonboy Meyers (Illustrator)

Publisher: DC Comics

Lenght: 154 pages

Genre: Comics

Score: ★★★

 

The story of this book is not original: a group of people who barely know each other have to overcome their differences to defeat their enemies. The only thing that saved it from being completely forgettable was Damian and his character arc. He was well-written, his goals and relationships clear and touching. He went from cocky self-assured lone wolf to someone willing to sacrifice himself for his friends. He easily stole the whole book and every page with him was a joy.

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The only problem with a storyline based on „Damian turns out to be a good person after all“ is that we’ve already seen this exact storyline several times already and it always goes the same, until he gets rebooted and de-aged again. As a Damian fan, it’s exhausting and frankly annoying. Yes, Damian is a good person with a troubled past fighting to stay good. That is a good base for a character, but after the amazing Batman and Robin run by Peter J. Tomasi, I’m expecting to move past that.

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The other problem with Damian outshining everyone else so spectacularly is that this is supposed to be a team book, despite not being written that way. The other members of Teen Titans might as well be mannequins with notes on them for their dialogues, for all the personality they have. Starfire is the only one who gets to be occasionally interesting, and her dialogue is completely hamfisted.

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Demon’s Fish, the enemy team, is interesting, but aside Mara, their leader, none of them have a real reason to be here. According to the plot, all of them chose their own Teen Titan nemesis based on some criteria, except we never learn what those are.

All the characters give long speeches about friendship and change their behavior, as if they underwent a complex character development, but they didn’t. They spend most of their short time together fighting, but when the story needs them to be friends, they suddenly are. It’s all very abrupt and a classic case of telling, not showing.

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There are two art styles in this book. The first half, done by Jonboy Meyers, didn’t fit the story much. The colorful angular style seemed at odds with the story. The second half of the book was done by Khoi Pham, whose fluid and soft style fit the book much better.

Overall, the book is sadly mediocre. It gets better in the second half, but not by much. Maybe now that the basics are set, the next book can be much more solid.

 

Reviews

Roller Girl by Vanessa North

Title: Roller Girl

Author: Vanessa North

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Lenght: 154 pages

Genre: Romance, Contemporary, Sports

Score: ★★★★

 

When Tina Durham gets a chance to a join a local roller derby team, she jumps on the opportunity immediately. Having retired from a professional wakeboarding career due to her transition and being freshly divorced, she is at a loss as to what to do with her life. The fact that the beautiful and charismatic Joe gives the invitation doesn’t hurt at all.

The two feel instant attraction and become lovers. However, due to the coach-player nature of their working relationship, Joe begs Tina to keep their affair secret until she can explain it to their teammates. Tina’s reluctant acceptance of the situation is where most of the conflict of this book comes from. It’s also my biggest problem with the book.

Roller Girl is in its nature a very feel-good story. It offers empowerment through a female-dominated sport. It gives us trans empowerment and body positivity and queer spaces. Which makes me mad that the relationship drama frankly annoyed me. I didn’t want to be annoyed because I was absolutely in love with everything else, but I was.

Books with queer characters in secret relationships, where one of the characters get angry about being a secret, make me angry, because for obvious reasons, it’s not always safe to be open about said relationship. But what gets me about this book is that the it isn’t a safety issue that forces them to be secretive, but a case of miscommunication. And whenever Tina gets understandably upset about the situation, instead of talking through the problem and trying to resolve it, Joe would instead seduce her into ignoring it until it grew too big and blew up into their faces. Honestly, the entire issue of their secret relationship felt shoehorned in just for the sake of having some drama. The book would’ve been much more improved by taking out the entire subplot.

Despite that, Roller Girl was wonderful. It was sweet, funny, and touching. I was in fact so touched, I cried my way through most of the final part of the book. The inclusion of a non-binary child was a very sweet reminder of the importance of representation. The friendships made me root for the characters and the Tina and Joe’s relationship made me wish for another story with the characters.

Reviews

Six of Crows and Crooked Kingdom by Leigh Bardugo

Title: Six of Crows

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Orion Children’s Book

Lenght: 462 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Score: ★★★★★

Absolutely magnificent. I actually picked this one up at a local bookstore because of the gorgeous cover and the fact I remembered my beloved comic artist Kevin Wada once did some character art for the series (check him out, he’s incredible) and I was intrigued. And once I started reading, I couldn’t put the book down.

The worldbuilding is rich without overwhelming the reader, the magic is fascinating and the characters are complex and fun. I loved that the main team are (with some exceptions) a bunch of hardened career criminals, but also (with some exceptions) fun-loving teasing teenagers. Every member of the main team has a history, likes and dislikes, strenghts and weaknesses. While Kaz Brekker is the main character, all of them get equal screen-time (with one exception that makes perfect sense by the end of the book).

There is a wonderful simplicity to the plot itself- get the best team, infiltrate prison, get paid. And while the plot is simple, the way it builds in on itself is so beautifully complex. I loved every word of it. The information is given to us in small amounts in non-linear narrative, slowly unveiling the mystery, which works very well for this world.


Title: Crooked Kingdom

Author: Leigh Bardugo

Publisher: Orion Children’s Books

Lenght: 536 pages

Genre: Fantasy, Young Adult

Score: ★★★★★

A Sequel to Six of Crows is somehow even more magnificent. A Sequel to Six of Crows is somehow even more magnificent.
The actions picks up right where the first book left of and raises the stakes. Crows are in hiding, betrayed and down two members. They have to fight for their lives, while getting revenge and what they truly deserve. The book goes deeper into the lore and history of the universe; we even get visits from some characters from Bardugo’s other works.
The characters get more development and so do their relationships. This book thrives on the connections between the team, be it platonic or romantic. Their friendships are wonderful and the romances heartfelt. All three couples got to shine and I loved how diverse they were, with their needs and the way they show affection.
This series is very clever in it’s plotting (I can’t even begin to imagine the prep process that must have happened before writing) and the way it makes you feel terrified for the characters and the plot twists. More than once did I shout “OH SHIT” out loud while reading it. There were several truly heartbreaking moments (bring some tissues) but also moments of joy
Crooked Kingdom is the kind of sequel that improves on the original in every possible way and I can’t wait to read more of Bardugo’s writing

Reviews

An Unnatural Vice by K.J. Charles

Title: An Unnatural Vice

Author: K.J. Charles

Publisher: Loveswept

Lenght: 250 pages

Genre: Romance, Historical

Score: ★★★★★

“He had never in his life been with anyone whose will was as strong as his own. This didn’t feel like a flirtation; it felt like stags circling, antlers ready to clash.”

An Unnatural Vice is the second book in K.J. Charles’ new series Sins of the Cities. It picks up the story from An Unseen Attraction and masterfully amps up the action. Nathaniel Roy, close friend of Clem Talleyfer, swears to help him navigate the legal troubles of his large family after the closing events of the first book. To be able to do so, he is forced to seek aid from Justin Lazarus, The Seer of London, a professional liar and one of the city’s foremost mediums, and the two become entangled in each other. As people with very strong personalities, they immediately clash and must figure out how to be able to work together. As the Taillefer family situation gets more and more complicated and more players enter the fray, they attract notice of someone they shouldn’t have and now, with a murderer after them, they need to close ranks to protect each other.

The story is set right in the middle of the boom of Victorian spiritualism, at a time when it was most prosperous and popular. I always found the industry around mediums fascinating, and despite knowing well enough that all we see is fake, I was right there with Nathaniel, unable to believe my eyes at some of Justin’s more elaborate tricks. The fact all of them were real and possible at the time shows us the power of well-done research and it makes the book come alive.

“Listen to me. You are not alone, and i will make sure you’re protected.”

Where this book shines the most are characters. Nathaniel and Justin are complex, fascinating characters and watching them interact with each other and their friends is absolute joy. Nathaniel is someone who has been in deep grief for many years now, and as someone in the same situation as him, I found his portrayal very touching and relatable. The way his grief always boils underneath the surface, ready to poke it’s head out at any occasion, is both heartbreaking and soothing to me. He takes his pain and transforms it into righteous anger towards injustices. He’s hot-headed and rude, but also kind and supportive towards those who deserve it. He sees through the masks people put up to protect themselves. Once he recognizes Justin’s worth, he does nothing but support and back up his choices, genuinely helping him to grow as a person. He shows us how important it is to have a good emotional support during hard times, and that it is okay to be weak, and ask for help.

Justin is one of the most fascinating characters I’ve read about it a long time. His front as a rude, manipulative, lying and thieving menace is just that- a front. He is no angel of course, but behind his asshole facade, he is a deeply lonely, caring man, with a magnificent brain, who is tired of his current life and wishes for more. He is someone who was born with nothing and clawed his way up using his skills and refuses to be ashamed of it. His relationship with his assistants is touching and unexpected, making me tear up at certain parts.

Nathaniel and Justin’s relationship is beautiful. They start off by antagonizing each other, two men from opposite sides of social divide: a well-born investigative journalist on a crusade and a fraudulent famous medium from the gutters. Despite that, they share explosive chemistry since the moment they met, and at points, their sexual tension was literally unbearable. It only grows as they are forced to work together, both men aware how much they desire each other. But as they get to know each other, different feelings join the attraction: respect, protectiveness, tenderness. They help each other to be better people, which is the best kind of relationship. Also, as someone who genuinely doesn’t like explicit scenes in books, the scenes in this book were incredible. Charged, funny and sexy, tender, and full of emotions. Justin and Nate climbed their way to become one of my favorite fictional couples and I haven’t been able to stop thinking about them for days.

Sometimes, second books in trilogy suffer from being weaker, but An Unnatural Vice is absolutely not one of them. The overall story of the trilogy is well-integrated and sets up the final book with gusto. Upon finishing the book, my first thought was “but now I desperately need the last book!!” and ever since, my head has been filled with speculation. I adored this book, the characters were wonderful and the relationship between all of them made me genuinely emotional. Definitely one of K.J. Charles’ best works.

Reviews

Draakenwood by Jordan L. Hawk

Title: Draakenwood

Author: Jordan L. Hawk

Lenght: 246 pages

Genre: Romance, Historical, Paranormal

Score: ★★★★★

 

“I suppose it’s true. Widdershins really does know it’s own.”

 

In this latest entry to the Whyborne & Griffin series, Percival Endicott Whyborne is running out of time. As he’s desperately reaching for allies to aid him against the upcoming war against otherworldly monsters, he’s thrown in the middle of a power grab between the Old families who established his home city of Widdershins. Heads of the Old families are being systematically murdered and all evidence points to Whyborne himself.

In the fight for his freedom and questions answered, he’s aided by his loyal group of friends, with the somewhat new addition of Maggie Parkhurst, brought into the circle of close friends by repeatedly proving her strength of character and her love for Whyborne’s twin sister, Persephone. He also gets help from an unexpected source: Endicotts, his estranged magical relatives from Britain arrive to offer aid, although their true motives remain hidden. They strike an uneasy alliance with the Endicott pair to try and catch the murderer terrorizing the city.

The unquestionable theme of Draakenwood is loyalty to family, all the forms families can take, and whether the loyalty is deserved. The Endicotts expect absolutely obedience to the family, but offer safety and knowledge in return. Niles Whyborne, head of the family, expected absolutely loyalty without giving anything in return, and his family was torn apart by his negligence and abuse. Only when finally realizing the effects of his actions, can the remains of his family start to heal. We see how absolute adherence to biological family can destroy people. We see the worst that can happen, and it’s heartbreaking.

But we also have Whyborne’s closest friends, outcasts who didn’t belong anywhere until they found each other. The bond they share is stronger than blood, their trust in each other absolute and they find determination and strength to go on.

The major characters are still given room to grow, and grow they do. Whyborne finally steps into the role of a leader and despite his vocal protests, it suits him well. Iskander is forced to face truths about his family. Thanks to Persephone’s encouragements, Maggie is growing into the strong woman confident in her talents that she was always destined to be. Randolf and Hattie, the Endicott cousins, are both fascinating characters in their own ways and Niles, Whyborne’s father, has such a wonderful character arc that it made me bawl.

As is usual for this series, the monsters are disturbing, although one scene in particular combines disturbing with heartbreaking and left me shaken. The main villain is a tragic figure that keeps you thinking.

Draakenwood was a great and fitting addition to the series (in fact, it’s my favourite entry since Bloodline), and it raises the bar for the sequels. It is obvious we are slowly nearing the climax of the overarching story and it sets it up very well.