Review: The Deep by Rivers Solomon

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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Yetu holds the memories for her people—water-dwelling descendants of pregnant African slave women thrown overboard by slave owners—who live idyllic lives in the deep. Their past, too traumatic to be remembered regularly, is forgotten by everyone, save one—the historian. This demanding role has been bestowed on Yetu.

Yetu remembers for everyone, and the memories, painful and wonderful, traumatic and terrible and miraculous, are destroying her. And so, she flees to the surface, escaping the memories, the expectations, and the responsibilities—and discovers a world her people left behind long ago.

Yetu will learn more than she ever expected to about her own past—and about the future of her people. If they are all to survive, they’ll need to reclaim the memories, reclaim their identity—and own who they really are.

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★★★.5

This was one of the best and most unique novellas I’ve ever read.

I went in without knowing a single thing except what the book cover might tell you, so I was launched into this world and immediately, ahem, drowned in it. It was not always easy to follow at the very beginning, but I soon became extremely invested in the world, and later about the main character too.

There’s a reason for this delay, why you first get intrigued and want to know more about why things in this society work the way they do, and only later truly start caring about Yetu. Yetu is the historian of her society, meaning that she carries all the burden of a tragic and violent history while the rest of her species live their lives free of it, but she often loses herself in this history.

Only later, after the yearly ceremony where Yetu gets to share the history with the rest of her group, for only a few days, can we see Yetu free of her burden, and it’s not a wonder that her character might read a little generic at first. She doesn’t really know herself, was too young to really know herself when the full weight of their history was reversed on her.

It was then so satisfying to watch her regain her own identity, take decisions for herself, and reflect on what history means for the individual and for the community, and find out more about her origin while developing a beautiful romance with a human woman.

This is a tale that’s more about a community than about the main character, but it was still so good to see Yetu’s development while raising questions that are relevant to so many people, especially those who have had their roots and history erased from the collective memory. This is a story for those people especially, and as for everyone else who, like me, is white and knows her country’s and her hometown’s history, we just need to absorb the true meaning of this and reflect upon it.

I haven’t seen many reviews mention this, but let me be absolutely clear: this is also as queer as it gets (main f/f romance; m/m side romance; every water dweller is intersex and decides their own gender(s) or no gender at all; there is a human side character who uses they/them pronouns), and everyone is Black (both the water dwellers, who descend from pregnant African slaves, and the humans).

I’m not sure how the book itself would read, but the audiobook was really good and the writing came across flowing well, so I would definitely recommend this format if you’re into listening to books.

TWs: slavery, violence, suicide attempt, suicidal thoughts

Review: The Starless Sea by Erin Morgenstern

I was sent this book as an advance listening copy via libro.fm for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own.

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From the New York Times bestselling author of The Night Circus, a timeless love story set in a secret underground world–a place of pirates, painters, lovers, liars, and ships that sail upon a starless sea.

Zachary Ezra Rawlins is a graduate student in Vermont when he discovers a mysterious book hidden in the stacks. As he turns the pages, entranced by tales of lovelorn prisoners, key collectors, and nameless acolytes, he reads something strange: a story from his own childhood. Bewildered by this inexplicable book and desperate to make sense of how his own life came to be recorded, Zachary uncovers a series of clues–a bee, a key, and a sword–that lead him to a masquerade party in New York, to a secret club, and through a doorway to an ancient library, hidden far below the surface of the earth.

What Zachary finds in this curious place is more than just a buried home for books and their guardians–it is a place of lost cities and seas, lovers who pass notes under doors and across time, and of stories whispered by the dead. Zachary learns of those who have sacrificed much to protect this realm, relinquishing their sight and their tongues to preserve this archive, and also those who are intent on its destruction.

Together with Mirabel, a fierce, pink-haired protector of the place, and Dorian, a handsome, barefoot man with shifting alliances, Zachary travels the twisting tunnels, darkened stairwells, crowded ballrooms, and sweetly-soaked shores of this magical world, discovering his purpose–in both the mysterious book and in his own life.

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★★★✩

First and foremost: I enjoyed listening to this audiobook, I thought all narrators (full cast!! I love full casts!!!) were absolutely right for the parts they were narrating. They made this book flow well and fast and made me want to keep listening even during the parts that I found confusing, and I truly thought that my experience was enhanced by having listened to it as opposed to reading it.

Now, I do also think that this is a book that could’ve benefited from being read and taking one’s time to truly absorb the various stories more, but I am also aware that I wouldn’t picked it up at all if it wasn’t for the chance to listen to it.

The Starless Sea is a beautiful book with beautiful writing that will speak to a lot of readers, so why the three stars and not more? This is a case of it’s not you, it’s me: if I had to judge this book objectively alone I would probably give it 5 stars; my overall enjoyment of it was closer to 3 stars, and I wondered if I should do a mathematical average and end up giving it a solid 4, but that didn’t seem to convey the fact that this was, ultimately, a book that wasn’t for me.

Books about books and stories are, in theory, a great idea, and I see many readers do love them and I have in the past too. But there comes a point where if I feel like I’m being manipulated into this narrative then I get annoyed and stop enjoying this aspect of the book. If this aspect is what constitutes the core of the book, then it goes without saying that I lose interest in the book itself pretty easily.

In truth, I could tell you a bit about the first 20% of the book, where we get to know our protagonist, Zachary Ezra Rawlins, and not much else. It’s not that I lost focus or even that I didn’t enjoy it, because as I stated at the beginning, my listening experience was enjoyable and I even went out of my way to keep listening when I was done with my chores (that I do while listening to audiobooks). It’s just that the book shifts from Stories to our Main Story and yes, there is a point that the book makes, and I feel like I either missed it or it was truly just: “books and stories are nice.”

Well, no shit.

I don’t know, but I truly don’t get what’s so alluring as a person who reads a lot to feel like I’m being lectured about how good stories and books are. I’m not saying there is no place for this book in this world, because there obviously is, but I just don’t like feeling so manipulated into something I’m well aware of. This is obviously my opinion and I know people who read even more than I do and who absolutely adored this.

I did however really like, in the first part, the fact that stories were being talked about in a broader sense than just books. Zachary is a gaming student and he spends some time reflecting on the nature of videogame narratives vs books, and there is a scene where he and a group of students have a discussion about this topic and I thought that was the highlight of the whole book for me. As someone who doesn’t play a lot anymore (because….I don’t have a console or a proper gaming laptop. RIP) but is in love with story-heavy games, it was so refreshing to see videogames that are heavy on plot and narrative being treated as equals to other forms of fiction.

After this first part and after something happens to Zachary, it was all about hearing different stories and trying to piece together the threads of a common narrative, which admittedly would have been easier if one was reading in physical form or in ebook. And as the book progressed, we got to see how Zachary’s own story intertwined with the other ones, and, well, you get the gist of it.

As for the single stories, I found some of them truly beautiful and that’s where Morgenstern’s writing really shone through. However, it was kind of hard to keep track of everything. It’s the kind of thing that would require a reread to really understand fully and maybe you’d find something new every time you reread, but I’m just not going to do that.

One aspect I really did love was the diversity and the fact that this book was so normally and casually gay. The main character is gay, his love interest is nonspecified queer, and there’s two sapphic characters, and there are multiple POC characters including the protagonist. Despite this, I unfortunately didn’t love the romance, which I found too rushed despite being promised a slow burn (they get together late, but the attraction is more of the insta-love type). There also seems to be an age gap and I’m really not fond of that (the MC is 25 I believe but I couldn’t find any info on how old the LI is. nothing problematic, just not my cup of tea).

So, overall, would I recommend this? It really depends on you. If you’ve loved The Night Circus there’s a high chance you’ll love this too. If this doesn’t seem very appealing to you for the reasons I myself didn’t give it a higher rating, maybe read a few more reviews to make up your mind.

So, You Want To Get Into MO DAO ZU SHI (MDZS)/The Untamed…

Hello and welcome back to an episode of Silvia Gets Everyone Into Her Latest Obsessions.

First of all, an introduction, because I don’t want to assume that everyone who finds this post has even heard of this. Or maybe they have but they’re still as confused as I was when I saw my friends on twitter get into it.

So, what is MDZS?

Mo Dao Zu Shi is the title of a Chinese novel by Mo Xiang Tong Xiu, and it translates to “Grandmaster of Demonic Cultivation”, and it’s also the title of some of its adaptations (except for the live action, which I’m going to talk about later).

Here’s the synopsis from goodreads:

As the grandmaster who founded the Demonic Sect, Wei WuXian roamed the world in his wanton ways, hated by millions for the chaos he created. In the end, he was backstabbed by his dearest shidi and killed by powerful clans that combined to overpower him. He incarnates into the body of a lunatic who was abandoned by his clan and is later, unwillingly, taken away by a famous cultivator among the clans—Lan WangJi, his archenemy. This marks the start of a thrilling yet hilarious journey of attacking monsters, solving mysteries, and raising children. From the mutual flirtation along the way, Wei WuXian slowly realizes that Lan WangJi, a seemingly haughty and indifferent poker-face, holds more feelings for Wei WuXian than he is letting on.

I would say this description is not 100% spot-on, but it does mention a lot of its strong points.

Before we talk about the different adaptations, I’m going to tell you…

Why I love this series so much

(in bunny-points)

🐇 canon gay happy ending

🐰 non-linear storyline taking place over many (20) years

🐇 so many different plotlines and they all come together beautifully by the end (while realistically leaving a few things unsolved or bitter-sweetly solved)

🐰 music magic!!

🐇 great cast of characters

🐰 beautiful relationships & found families

🐇 fascinating world and magic

🐰 bunnies!!

🐇 it’s dark but it’s balanced by a lot of funny and cute moments

🐰 good balance of shallow + deep villains

🐇 strictly-followed typical villain arc but SUBVERTED

🐰 zombies and ghosts (psst, they’re not all bad!)

🐇 blurred line between right and wrong, does the end justify the means, etc

🐰 adopting children along the way

🐇 lots of beautiful heartbreak

🐰 investigating a mystery while falling in love

🐇 oblivious bisexual main character

🐰 …and so much more!

If everything I mentioned above sounds like something you’d also like, read on to learn about the different adaptations!

The basics

There are a few rules I feel are best to follow if you want to get into this fandom and enjoy each adaptation at its fullest, but of course this is just my experience with it and you should do what you feel like. In any case, here’s my general advice:

Start with something visual, doesn’t matter if it’s the comic or the animated version or both. I’d advice against starting with the novel because there are a lot of characters and you’ll be able to better tell them apart if you remember how they look (also, the different sects/clans are color-coded, which is nice).

• You can probably binge all the available comic chapters in a couple of hours or less before you start the novel, and to be honest you should. However, I don’t think it matters how far you’ve reached into the animated version, but by now it’s pretty far and you will be spoiled for a lot of things that happen in the novel if you watch the full two seasons. This is up to you, my personal advice would be to either stop watching at a point you feel right for you, or stop after episode 15 (where the first season —and a huge flashback— ends).

• If you’re planning to read the novel, absolutely leave the live action for last. It is an adaptation I absolutely adore and it is in some aspects an improvement from the novel, but it does get pretty canon divergent. So if you don’t want to get confused about some plot points, read the novel first, and preferably finish watching the animated version too, so that the canon plot gets solidified in your head before you get to enjoy the more canon-divergent version.

Again, this is just based on my experience and how I got to enjoy this series of adaptations, but if you’re like, “You know, I really only care about the live action”, then go for it and watch it first! And it won’t come in the way of your enjoyment of the novel if you end up wanting to read it anyway.

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The novel

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The novel is the original version written by MXTX and it’s unfortunately not yet officially translated in English (although, as you can imagine, there are fan translations on the internet). You might be able to purchase it if you can read Chinese, but I’m not sure if that’s possible because I heard of issues with censorship due to the M/M content. I know the author has had to write many different versions to appease Chinese censorship before but I’m quite honestly lost as to where it stands now and can’t find the information I want. But chances are, if you can read Chinese you can find this information better than I can (and if you do or you know about it already, please let me know!).

Anyway, the novel is very long and very beautiful. You can read it in its full length here.

The manhua

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The manhua (Chinese manga) is structured like a webtoon and there are currently around 80 chapters, as far as I know. It’s also not yet officially translated in English, but of course there are fan translations.

I think as far as I know this is the second-closest adaptation that follows the novel, only second to the audio drama (which is the only adaptation the author herself has any supervision on, afaik, but I’m not covering it in this post because I haven’t listened to it -but I know it’s beautifully acted from snippets I’ve heard online).

Explanation time: the novel has many flashbacks (I told you, non-linear storyline), alternated with chapters in the present. The past timeline follows Wei Wuxian’s life before his death, and the present chapters follow him after his resurrection (this is not a spoiler since it tells you in the literal prologue of any adaptation, and it’s also in the synopsis!) Because some things work differently in different formats, the flashbacks don’t always interrupt the present story at the same time throughout all adaptations, but the manhua is more or less closer to the novel in this regard.

Here’s some fun screencaps from it:

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Wei Wuxian getting flustered
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drunk!Lan Wangji

The donghua | watch here!

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The donghua (Chinese anime) is one of two adaptations you can consume legally because it’s been officially translated!

It currently has two seasons (or, one 23-episodes-long season) and it will be a while before the next one comes out, but now is a good point to start it. Since it’s literally on YouTube, you really have no excuse not to start watching it (…unless you don’t want to, but then why did you get so far into this post? eheh), and if you don’t like it you can always close the tab and no harm done!

I think this adaptation is very well done, it keeps things a little more superficial compared to the novel or the live action, but that’s to be expected. It changes some things slightly, too, but less than the live action does. And the animation itself is so good, you can clearly see how much thought the creators put into each scene.

The live action | watch here!

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The live action is called Chén Qíng Lìng – The Untamed (usually people in the fandom just refer to it as cql), and sees Xiao Zhan as Wei Wuxian and Wang Yibo as Lan Wangji. The fandom loves them both and with good reason. I think they did their roles perfectly and truly became their characters and did them justice. Especially Yibo, who had the difficult task of portraying Lan Wangji, did such a masterful job (and keep in mind this was his first time acting!). The other actors were all amazing as well, and I love them all so much. I now see their faces when I reread the book or read fanfiction!

I like to see this adaptation as its own canon divergent universe. It did some things I preferred compared to the novel, especially how it gives more space to a few characters that in the novel have a smaller role, especially the female characters. Then there are things that I personally didn’t care about but I can sort of understand why they changed (especially in the past timeline, giving more scenes to the Wen clan, the yin iron…), and then there’s stuff I’m neutral about (the present plotline and what they did with the investigation plot).

There’s also the fact that because of Chinese censorship they had to formally no-homo the main relationship, but if you know me a bit you should at least trust me, lover of making things GAY, when I tell you that they did everything they could to convey how much the two main characters deeply love each other. Especially if you’ve read the novel, you’ll be able to tell exactly what’s going through their minds (especially Lan Wangji) at any given scene. I truly appreciate them giving them some of the most romantic, cheesy scenes I’ve ever seen in any live action ever (and, minor spoiler alert, they might not be able to show them as a couple, but the word “soulmate” might or might not have canonically used, so…)

I could honestly wax poetics about this adaptation for hours, but I promised myself this post wouldn’t be a review so I’m keeping this short(ish).

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The warnings

I would love to give y’all a full trigger warning list, but the fact is the novel is very very long and I wasn’t taking notes when I read it, so my list is going to be lacking. And as always, you should never count on only one person to spot all the triggers in any given work anyway.

This is a very dark story that sees major character deaths (although the most important one you know from the start, and you know he gets resurrected), grief, war, and so much more. If this was a western novel we’d label it Adult, and if you don’t normally read dark, adult fantasy, I would recommend you procede with caution.

A most definitely not complete list of content warnings (note: not all warnings may apply to all the adaptations, and not all warnings apply to the main characters/relationships and have the same importance throughout the story):

(highlight the paragraph to read): multiple major character deaths, loss of parents, grief, effects of trauma, self-sacrificing for others in more than one way, eye horror, betrayal, gore, walking corpses, monsters etc, war, mention of incest, murder, mention of torture, portrayal of work/death camp-like setting, mention of rape, mentions of extreme poverty and homelessness, dubious consent, child death, presumed child death, corporal punishment, mutilation, dismemberment, explicit sex scenes, alcohol consumption, mention of parental abuse, ableistic language.

Another no-context warning from the bottom of my heart: if you read the novel and you finish it, you will see there are extra chapters. They’re mostly good to very good, but don’t read the one that’s called Incense Burner (you will thank me).

The disclaimer

Like every piece of fiction, this is not perfect. If I were to review it like I do other books or shows, I would give it five stars because my ratings tend to focus more on my emotional response than anything, but that doesn’t mean I’m not aware of its flaws. But the fact is that this story has consumed my time and thoughts for more than a month, thanks to the different adaptations (and fanfiction), so much that I’ve been in a reading slump ever since and I don’t even care about forcing myself to get back to reading until I get it out of my system.

It’s a fantasy story set in a world and a culture I knew nothing about (and still can’t claim to understand beyond what MDZS showed me), but I couldn’t keep my eyes off the page although the novel is 113 chapters long (and something that would probably be around 1k+ pages of a print book), and I honestly can’t say that many of the books I read were able to do the same.

Also, all my friends who have spontaneously (after seeing me talk about it all day on twitter…….) started to watch/read it are now in hell and can’t stop talking and thinking about it, so I guess it’s one of those things that once you start you kind of get obsessed with. I take no responsibility for your book slumps, y’all.

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I hope this post was useful to those of you who have been wanting to get in on this fandom because I know it can be hard to understand where to start with. And if you didn’t know about it before, I really hope I have piqued your interest! If you need more information / links just shoot me a DM on twitter @ verelaurent (please mention you came from this post if I don’t know you, so I know why you’re writing me).

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Audiobook Review: The Stars Are Legion by Kameron Hurley

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Summary: Somewhere on the outer rim of the universe, a mass of decaying world-ships known as the Legion is traveling in the seams between the stars. For generations, a war for control of the Legion has been waged, with no clear resolution.  As worlds continue to die, a desperate plan is put into motion.

Zan wakes with no memory, prisoner of a people who say they are her family. She is told she is their salvation – the only person capable of boarding the Mokshi, a world-ship with the power to leave the Legion. But Zan’s new family is not the only one desperate to gain control of the prized ship. Zan finds that she must choose sides in a genocidal campaign that will take her from the edges of the Legion’s gravity well to the very belly of the world.

Zan will soon learn that she carries the seeds of the Legion’s destruction – and its possible salvation. But can she and her ragtag band of followers survive the horrors of the Legion and its people long enough to deliver it?

In the tradition of The Fall of Hyperion and DuneThe Stars are Legion is an epic and thrilling tale about tragic love, revenge, and war as imagined by one of the genre’s most celebrated new writers.

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★★★.5✩

This is one of those books I would’ve never read if it wasn’t for the audiobook so I’m glad I had this experience. The narrators are great but I didn’t know how to feel about the story for the first 30% maybe, although there were enough elements to keep me interested so I kept listening.

Once it got to a certain point it became more of a travel fantasy (yes it’s a space opera but to be honest there’s not that much space) I started to enjoy it more, but bear with me: this book is truly disgusting. If you’re squeamish you need to stay away from this book. It has body horror and gore on every page and it takes place on worlds/ships that are rotting cephalopods. The book doesn’t make things nice for you, it just tells them like they are. Also stay away if you’re bothered by pregnancies and reading about giving birth and not in the “omg such a beautiful thing” way. Basically don’t read it if even the mention of bodily fluids makes you go “eww”.

It’s definitely not something I would have wanted to read otherwise but I was in it for the all female, all lesbian cast, and although I wouldn’t say there’s actually a romance (nothing I would call healthy anyway), there’s a really messed up f/f/f love triangle (but one could argue it’s more of a love square) where one of them (at least one of them?) is the villain. Another aspect I loved was the main character having lost her memory and see her on her (not only metaphorical) journey to regain it, alongside a strange and unlikely group of women that were really what kept me listening even when I was confused (and I was confused a lot).

Would I recommend this if you’re able to handle the stuff I warned you about? Probably only if you’re a big scifi/space opera/fantasy reader, or if you’re as invested in stories about lesbians as I am, or if you want to try reading outside of your comfort zone. So basically, yes.

TWs: extreme gore, violence, cannibalism, death, birth, memory loss

6 Reasons To Read: Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant // mermaids, but terrifying

I don’t usually feel like I can review audiobooks. Most of the time, I read them for my own pleasure without thinking about writing a review after I’m done with them. However, I loved Into the Drowning Deep so much that I thought I couldn’t possibly not talk about it.

This is still not a review but I’m trying out this format for the first time and I’m hoping to use it in the future for other audiobooks too!

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The casual and effortless diversity. If anyone goes “oh diversity nowadays is so forced” I’ll just throw this book in their faces. Seriously, this is a brilliant example of an adult book that is not about any particular identity, the characters just are, but at the same time their identity is important to them and is fully part of their character, it’s never forgotten or brushed aside and I think the author does a great job of giving each marginalized character their own agency and analyzing the way that their identity plays into that and their action.

A non-comprehensive list of identities includes: bisexual MC, autistic lesbian LI, Hawaiian rep, a character with chronic pain, a Latino character, two deaf twins who use ASL.

Scientific research added a new fascinating layer to mermaids. If you like science and facing in a more scientific way, you will like this. Mermaids are treated like the scientific mystery they are and it’s absolutely mesmerizing. Think of what we’d do as scientists if we ever came face to face with aliens from space: this is what this book does with mermaids, because they’re just as alien.

The atmosphere is terrifying. If you think mermaids are lovely sea creatures made for soft romances and fun adventures, think again. Or rather, they can be, but this book will make you reconsider how you think of the sea and its creatures. But if you’re like me, it also won’t make you scared of anything too tangible. Unless you live very close to the deep sea. Or are reading it while on a cruise. Then I would recommend reading it when you’re far, far away from the ocean.

It has so many POVs and it’s never confusing. I know some people don’t like many POVs in their books, but I personally have a weird love for the most obscure POVs that are only there for one chapter and then never again. I don’t know, I think they are kind of a way for me to see if the author is really good: if you make me love a 3-pages POV, you’re a writing genius. Most POVs here are the main characters but there were a few random ones that were just the best, whether they were bloodcurdling or jaw-droppingly beautiful.

• It’s as much tension-driven as it is character-driven. I want more horror books to be like this. The tension is always present, even when you think the characters can relax a little you know things won’t stay calm for long. This book also has probably one of the most suspenseful scenes I’ve ever read, I still get chills just from thinking about it. But it’s also a book that focuses a lot on the different characters and their relationships to each other, whether professional or personal. It’s basically the best of two worlds.

It has so many themes it’s hard to even begin listing them. Some of the prevalent ones are environmentalism, the relationship that humans have with nature, the way abled people often behave towards disabled people, and of course scientific research and what we’re willing to do for the sake of knowledge. But there are so many other social, ethical and philosophical themes that are mentioned even just in passing, maybe just in a sentence or two, and they still hit you like a punch in the gut. But like, in a good way.

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What are your favorite not-too-scary horror books? Have you read Into the Drowning Deep

 

Review: Accepting the Fall by Meg Harding

I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 
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Summary: Confronting the past is never easy.

Cole Whitaker is happy. He has the job and boyfriend he always wanted. His heart’s in no danger of being broken, and he can’t ask for more from life. As a kindergarten teacher, he sees it all; however, one troublesome student has him reaching out to the parent, wanting to help. There’s something about Savanah that tugs at his heartstrings.

He never expected her father.

Zander Brooks hasn’t had an easy life, and he’s made some mistakes. Freshly retired from the military and working as a firefighter, Zander thought he’d left Cole in the rearview mirror. He’s not expecting him to appear in St. Petersburg, Florida, of all places, teaching his daughter’s kindergarten class. Suddenly, his biggest mistake is being shoved in his face.
This is Zander’s chance to close a door he’d never fully shut, but time with his former flame might change his mind.

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★★★★

I loved this second-chance romance so much, without realizing it I even finished it within one single day (more like single evening) and that never happens because I’m a very slow reader.

The story is about Cole, a gay kindergarten teacher, and Zander, a Black bisexual firefighter whose daughter is in Cole’s class. Cole and Zander both grew up on military bases and they meet each other again after almost two decades of having had a relationship that ended abruptly as teens.

It’s hard to find anything I didn’t like about this book, to be honest.

I loved the single-parent aspect, and how Zander didn’t really know what to do with a little kid (he only had her for a few months because her mom dropped her on his doorstep and disappeared) but how he loved her so much and always wanted to do what was best for her. He is working as a firefighter and his job makes him a little absent from his daughter’s life at first but he learns to do things with her and how to be a great dad. I also loved that this wasn’t a story about him coming out and that his colleagues and friends knew about him being bisexual and nobody had a problem with it.

Cole was a sweetheart and he loves the kids he’s teaching and seeing him with all his pets and farm animals had me so soft. He is also in an established relationship at the beginning of the book, which is something that initially I didn’t like because I never know where a story might go from there. Fortunately there was no cheating and instead we were given enough time (I believe in the book a few months passed) to see why his current boyfriend wasn’t good for him. It’s not that he was a bad guy or anything (I also hate when someone is in an abusive relationship and finds a new partner, because I’m never sure that they love the new partner or if they’re really just looking for something better). In fact, the guy was great on paper, but just not what Cole needed in his life.

Once things with Cole’s ex ended, the romance took up from there. Cole and Zander’s dates were so adorable and once they started dating there was no real obstacle to their romance. Most of the conflict was from their time together when they were teens, and I loved seeing snippets from the past to understand what had gone right and what had gone wrong.

I also liked the focus on Savanah’s mental health and trauma of her mom leaving her and how she interacted with the world (mostly Zander and Cole, but also the other kids) because of it. I just wanted to hug her and make sure she was okay and I cried with that epilogue because yes, she turns out okay and loved.

So, I can’t recommend this book enough if you want to read a cute second-chance romance with a single parent trope and an out and proud bisexual Black man.

TW: mentions of past homophobia, past break up, car accident, hospitals, child abandonment

Review: On the Fly by P.J. Trebelhorn // for the f/f sports romance lovers out there

I was sent this book as an advanced copy by the publisher via NetGalley for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 

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Summary: Courtney Abbott is a gold-medal-winning Olympian who always dreamed of playing in the NHL. But breaking into a man’s game is nearly impossible, and she’s put her all into playing in a semi-pro women’s ice hockey league.

Concert violinist Lana Caruso and her teenage son return home to care for her father. The move is only temporary, though—as soon as he recovers, Lana plans to return to Chicago and her position in the orchestra.

Court knows Lana isn’t going to be sticking around for long, but she’s used to living life on the fly. She doesn’t think for even a second she’ll end up truly falling for Lana, but when hearts are on the line, love becomes the one game she can’t afford to lose.

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★★★★.5

This book is a romance between hockey player Courtney Abbott and Lana Caruso, a violinist who has to take time off from her orchestra in Chicago in order to help out her family because of her father’s health issues. Lana also has a teenage son so there’s a single parent trope in this too, which I really liked. Because he’s 15 and plays hockey too, he had kind of a important role and I thought the scenes with him were really cute and endearing.

I thought that because the romance was going to be between an athlete and a violinist, this book wouldn’t focus so much on the sports element, but I was wrong and I really enjoyed this aspect. Particularly I loved how fierce Court’s teammates were when it came to backing up one of their own, even if it was usually against a new member of their own team who caused trouble. In this it reminded me a bit of The Foxhole Court, just in how violent and threatening some scenes were. It’s nowhere near TFC levels though. Although at the beginning it was cool to see this strong friendship among women, it also annoyed me that the main conflict had to be a teammate who was causing trouble for no reason other than the fact that she’s a bigot and has a problem with Courtney being a lesbian. That grew old soon and it distracted from the romance and the cute scenes. If I’m reading an f/f book I usually don’t want to be reminded of queerphobia. I also didn’t like the implication that because she’s a homophobe she has to be secretly closeted and not accepting of her own sexuality. It’s a tired argument that’s only meant to justify bigotry.

On Lana’s side of the story, she has to help out in her family’s pizzeria and try to find a relationship with her parents where she doesn’t really have one. I am Italian and I have to say that I recognized Lana’s family’s mentality as typically Italian and not in a stereotyped way. It was the small things that made it real and I don’t know if the author really did her research or what but I thought it was spot-on.

The romance itself was really good. I liked them right away and how flirty they were with each other. I really felt for them because they knew the time they had was limited since Lana would go back to Chicago after a few months. Something that was different compared to other romances was the fact that the book stretched onto a long time period, overall I think about two years? It had some necessary time jumps at the end but that was expected, however even while Lana was still in town sometimes I thought the pacing was a bit off.

There were a few other things that bothered me like the equivalence that having breasts = being a woman, or the fact that sex was treated as something everyone needs to have, and one comment in Court’s POV about bisexual women that I thought could have been edited out (Lana is a lesbian but Court initially thinks she’s bi because she has a son, and thinks in her internal monologue that she doesn’t have a problem with bi women but doesn’t want to hear about their sex with men, which….was really not prompted by anything and just made me uncomfortable) but overall I had a really good time while reading this and I would definitely recommend it for fans of f/f and sport romances.

TW: lesbophobia, mention of suicide, past death of a parent, cancer, hospitals, violence, the d slur