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

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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

Review: Squared Away by Annabeth Albert

I was sent this book as an advanced copy for reviewing purposes, but all opinions are my own. 
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Summary: In the wake of tragedy, SEAL Mark Whitley rushed stateside to act as guardian to his sister’s three young children. But a conflicting will could give custody to someone else—someone Mark remembers as a too young, too hot, wild party boy. Even after six years, Mark can’t shake the memory of his close encounter with Isaiah James, or face up to what it says about his own sexuality.

Isaiah’s totally over the crush that made him proposition Mark all those years ago. In fact, he’s done with crushing on the wrong men altogether. For now, he’s throwing himself into proving he’s the best person to care for his cousin’s kids. But there’s no denying there’s something sexy about a big, tough military man with a baby in his arms.

As the legal details get sorted out, their long-buried attraction resurfaces, leading to intimate evenings after the kids are tucked in. A forever future is within reach for all of them, if only Mark can find the courage he needs to trust Isaiah with his secrets—and his heart.

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★★★★.5

Okay so don’t mind me while I SQUEAL because this book made me feel all kinds of feels. I was weirdly in the mood for an M/M romance where one of the guys has to raise a kid on his own, but get this: BOTH guys are raising THREE KIDS. Together.

I don’t think I could’ve asked for more from this trope. This had everything I wanted: cute domestic scenes, funny shenanigans, one of the guys who’s clueless about kids at the beginning and the other one who’s already a pro at it. It was also very emotional because of the circumstances in which Isaiah and Mark come to take care of the kids, since their parents died. I think the portrayal of grief (especially from Mark’s part) was realistic enough without making the book darker than it needed to be.

The romance itself was so, so good and soft. I can’t think of another word for it and y’all are gonna have to take it from my cold, dead hands. SOFT SOFT SOFT. While there is some lack of communication when it comes to the legal situation with the kids, the communication between Isaiah and Mark is great in their relationship. I don’t really want to spoil anything about it but it’s too cute and I’m still squealing.

Talking about the representation, Isaiah is biracial, just like the kids are, but it’s sort of a blink-and-you-miss-it thing. Isaiah is also gay and Mark is grey-ace or demisexual (he isn’t sure of the exact label, but he is ace-spec). I don’t want to go into the specifics of what I think of Mark’s asexuality and how it was handled, but I want to say that a thing I found a bit weird was how there didn’t seem to be a distinction between sexual and romantic orientation. Mark talks about sexual attraction and romantic crushes as if they’re one and the same, and while they might be for some people, I think the two are very different things. In any case, there’s never any talk of aromanticism or being on the aro spectrum as well as the ace one. Other than this, it was great to see that Isaiah was understanding and respectful of Mark’s sexuality and knew enough about asexuality without Mark having to explain the ABC of it, which is sometimes the case with m/m romances where one character is ace.

I 100% recommend this book if you’re a fan of the trope with kids, if you want to a super soft romance between two guys grieving and if you’re looking for ace rep.

TW for homophobia, death of loved ones, mentions of drunk driving, mentions of alcoholism, war injuries, grief.

ARC Review: Mating the Huntress by Talia Hibbert // me, loving a paranormal romance?? more likely than you think

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

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Summary: This Halloween, love bites back… hard.

Chastity Adofo knows a monster when she sees one. As soon as Luke Anthony wanders into her family’s coffee shop, she recognises the evil lurking beneath his charming smile and fantastic arse. The handsome werewolf is determined to have her—but she’s determined to cut out his heart.

Little does she know, Luke’s plans for her are far more pleasurable than murder. And when the full moon rises, all bets are off…

Warning: Mating the Huntress is 30,000+ words of red-hot, Halloween-themed romance. This novella contains one flirtatious, cursed creature of the night, one badass, knife-happy heroine, and forbidden lust at first sight. Please read responsibly!

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★★★★

Honestly?? Leave it to Talia Hibbert to write a romance between a werewolf and a human and make me fall for it hard.

Y’all know paranormal romance isn’t my cup of tea but I trust Talia with my life and she didn’t disappoint.

So, this book is about Chastity, a Black fat woman from a family of werewolves hunters, who’s been forbidden to hunt since birth because of a prophecy. But her instincts are still those of a huntress, and she knows that the new customer at the cafe where she works is not a human but a werewolf. So she decides to take her destiny into her own hands and prove herself to her family, but things don’t go as planned when the werewolf doesn’t hurt her and is instead kind to her and wants to please her in every way possible.

This is a novella of a little bit more than 100 pages in its physical copy I believe, and yet both main characters were developed so well. The insta-lust is definitely explained and it makes sense in-universe so it wasn’t a turnoff at all. I also loved how awkwardly sweet Luke was at the beginning when he was trying to ask Chas out, honestly how can you not love a grumpy, artsy werewolf who has learned to control his violent instincts and is only trying to be with his mate?

Yes, after the first two times the word mate was used I managed to stop cringing and actually enjoyed this aspect too. Key – not overusing it, which Talia didn’t. Also, she did everything right. Consent was always there, the fact that Chas is his mate didn’t make him feel entitled to anything she might not have wanted to do, and everything that happened between them was in human form.

I also loved how low on external conflict this was, and the fact that the family was so open about the whole werewolf thing. It made me enjoy the romance without being worried about anything else coming up.

This also takes place around Halloween so if you’re into that and into romance this is definitely something you should consider reading around this time of the year. I 100% recommend it.

ARC Review: Thrall by Avon Gale & Roan Parrish

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

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Summary: Dating Sucks & Love Bites 

Happy couple Mina Murray and Lucy Westenra have begun to garner national attention for their quirky New Orleans true-crime podcast, Shadowcast. When Lucy’s brother Harker disappears while researching the popular new dating app Thrall, they’re thrown into a real-life mystery. Aided by their social media expert, Arthur, and Harker’s professor, Van Helsing, they follow the trail, hoping to find Harker before it’s too late.

When their investigation crosses the path of a possible serial killer, the line between fantasy and reality begins to blur. And as they race against the app’s countdown clock, so does the line between friendship and love. What starts as a flirtatious rivalry between computer-savvy Arthur and techno-averse Van Helsing becomes much more, and Mina and Lucy’s relationship is tested in the fires of social media.

As they get down to the wire, the group discovers that nothing on their screens is as it seems—including their enemy.

A modern retelling of Bram Stoker’s Dracula

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★.5

Thrall is a novel that tries to be many things. Modern Dracula retelling, queer romance(s), thriller, mystery, all told in an unique format. Some things worked better than others, but while the attempt at being a multi-genre novel was certainly admirable, it didn’t completely succeed at it.

First off, I liked the main characters. Lucy is a bisexual Black woman and co-host of Shadowcast, a true-crime podcast. She’s also the sister of Harker, who goes presumably missing at the beginning of the novel. Mina is the second co-host of Shadowcast and Lucy’s girlfriend. Arthur is their social media manager and is later instructed to keep in touch with Van Helsing, Harker’s anthropology professor, in order to find out anything relevant that might give them a clue about Harker’s disappearance. Van Helsing (VH) is an older character (I don’t think it was specified how old is he really is, I imagined him around 45 or 50 year old, while Arthur is 28) and is new to technology and chats, which was both fun and a little repetitive to see.

I found the beginning of the book rather slow, pacing-wise. This was kind of counterbalanced by the fact that the book is entirely told in chat logs, emails, podcast transcripts, tweets, etc., which made it easier and faster to read. Other times the pacing was faster, but overall I can’t say that it was consistent. It mainly depended on how much page time was given to the romance(s) at any given point, because the plot basically paused a few times to allow for the romance to develop instead of organically integrating the romance in the plot, if that makes sense.

The main relationship was between Arthur (bi) and VH (gay). Despite the pacing issues I just mentioned, I found their romance interesting even though I don’t care much for that age gap, and I liked the way the authors managed to use the format to their advantage. I think it wasn’t easy but it definitely worked well for me as a romance.

Something I loved is how this wasn’t purely about a M/M romance but also about an (established) F/F one. Although it wasn’t given as much page time as the M/M one, it had a few both cute and steamy moments. Not only seeing that on page, but also thinking about all the people who exclusively read M/M and imagining how mad they’re gonna be about the F/F sex scenes? Oh, that is truly priceless.

Err, anyway.

I actually want to talk about the bi rep and give a little warning that some might find Arthur’s history to be the slutty bi stereotype. I wasn’t bothered by it because whenever his history was mentioned it was always heavily implied that it’s his character and insecurities that made him act the way he did, so there was never an in-text correlation between his bi-ness and that. There was another scene that actually did bother me and it was the sex scene between Lucy and Mina where Mina (who is a lesbian) is basically writing a story from Lucy’s POV and at the beginning it focuses a lot on male gaze. They’re in a club and Lucy’s dancing with a guy and then Mina steps in and they dance and she keeps mentioning how none of those guys will have her and then they go to a bathroom where they know they’ll be heard (by the men outside) if they have sex. It made me feel icky because it added a male gaze even though there was absolutely no need for it, and I didn’t like how that seemed to have some sort of correlation with Lucy being bisexual. The scene turned out great and hot but I can’t shake the feeling of wrongness at the beginning where there was too much talk of men for it to feel safe to read as a queer woman.

Moving on, I usually love things that defy a genre or are multiple genres at once. With this novel, I feel like that could’ve worked much better with some more consistency in the way the narrative worked. It was mostly fine, hence the 3 stars, but there were a few things I really couldn’t let myself care about.

First of all, since a lot of the book takes place in chat format, I hated when they were talking about the actual plot and like, being scared about the things that were happening and then they were flirting with heavy innuendos in the next message. That made me roll my eyes so hard and it happened too often. If you’re scared for your life or your brother’s life or whatever, I don’t think you feel like thinking about sex in the next line. It was just too much.

Then, I know I haven’t talked much about the actual plot because it’s best to actually read it but I found the ending very anticlimactic and not really like it fit the rest of the novel. It kind of… changed the whole genre of the novel? Or maybe not really, but look, there’s not much else I can say without spoiling things. Just, the ending actually made me drop the rating from 4 to 3 stars, and the more I think about it the more plot holes I find that just don’t make any sense.

To add another point, since this is marketed as a modern retelling of Dracula: I’ve read Dracula probably like… 10 years ago and I don’t remember anything about it, but there was still very little Dracula-y about it if you look at it from the perspective of the legacy that Bram Stoker left to the literary world. I really don’t want to drop spoilers but let’s just say that there are no actual vampires in Thrall, and the bridge that was used to further connect it to Dracula was ridiculous in my opinion.

I’ve talked about the format but let me reiterate that I thought it was brilliant and cleverly used and probably the only way it was sort of a retelling of Dracula. I hope to see more novels told like this in the future, in any genre, because it’s a lot of fun.

As you can see from my review, there were things that worked and didn’t work for me. I have to 100% admit that if this hadn’t had a lot of queer rep I would probably have given it an even lower rating. Overall I would recommend it if you’re curious about reading a very queer romance/mystery with a format you probably haven’t seen used before (at least for this type of book).