ARC Review: The Tea Dragon Festival by Katie O’Neill

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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Rinn has grown up with the Tea Dragons that inhabit their village, but stumbling across a real dragon turns out to be a different matter entirely! Aedhan is a young dragon who was appointed to protect the village but fell asleep in the forest eighty years ago. With the aid of Rinn’s adventuring uncle Erik and his partner Hesekiel, they investigate the mystery of his enchanted sleep, but Rinn’s real challenge is to help Aedhan come to terms with feeling that he cannot get back the time he has lost.

Release date: September 17th

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★★★★

What an utterly delightful story, and what a gift to the world is Katie O’Neill!

The Tea Dragon Festival is a companion-prequel to The Tea Dragon Society and it follows Rinn (they/them), who is an aspiring cook, and a Dragon (not a small tea dragon!) who’s been asleep for too long. We also see a young Erik and Hesekiel in their bounty hunters days and they’re just as cute as you might imagine if you’ve read TTDS. There’s also a side character who uses Sign Language and the whole village has learned SL because of her and it’s like, no big deal to them and it was so endearing to see.

As always the author has created a rich and inclusive world that radiates the positivity we so desperately need sometimes with escapism nowadays. This is both great for a younger audience and for everyone else who’s just looking to read a wonderful diverse story and look at seriously cute art. I can’t recommend it enough!

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Review: Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter

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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I’m willingly not sharing the official summary of this book because I found it super misleading.

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★★★★.5✩

This book’s biggest flaw was the way it was marketed.

First things first, I loved this book. I think it might have been a 5 stars under slightly different circumstances, and if I can ever bring myself to read it again I think I will be able to give this the 5 stars it probably deserves.

Before we get into what it did right and why I liked it, let me once again do the job that the publisher* failed to do and clarify that, first of all, that blurb is totally misleading. Prince is not the protagonist of this book and he’s frankly not even that important. Fairies in this book are just a clever excuse to explore humanity, or better said, some very fucked up and ugly sides of humanity. And that brings me to my second point, which you should keep in mind before even thinking about reading this book: this is fucking dark. It’s ugly, it’s triggering, it’s maddening, and if you manage to read enough of it it has one of the most satisfying character developments and conclusion of any book I’ve ever read.

To put this on Netgalley without a single trigger warning, and especially to set it as “Read Now”, was a huge mistake and a huge disfavor to both readers and the book itself. I’m sorry if I come off as harsh but I’m not just here to review the book, if the publisher really cares about feedback I hope they will take this into consideration for the next books they put up for review.

* (hi, publisher person that will read this when I send my review through Netgalley! please don’t take this review as your cue to never approve me for your books ever, again, thank you)

This is initially a story about the codependency between two foster siblings, Josh and Ksenia. Their relationship gets about as unhealthy as you can imagine, and because for the first good chunk of the book we only get to see things through Ksenia’s eyes, our reading experience can get incredibly frustrating. If you’re someone who while reading needs to be told at any given moment, “This is wrong, btw,” then you should stay away from this book. You know it’s so, so wrong, but the book *shows* you that it is instead of telling you, because character perspective matters and that’s the whole fucking point.

As the story progresses and the codependency slides pretty heavily into abuse, you get a different, healthier POV. And thank god, because reading Lexi’s POV chapters are like emerging to finally take a breath after being held under water by Ksenia and Josh. And still it’s a while before things can get better, because they need to get worse first.

What truly struck me about this book were two things: the writing, which is absolutely stunning and it completely captured me from page one, and the fact that Ksenia is given all the compassion, all the redemption, all the healing and forgiveness we usually bestow upon male characters. And I don’t know if she’s a female character, other reviewers have said she’s possibly genderqueer, although this isn’t explicit in the text, but she’s a character I feel was missing in YA, or maybe I just haven’t encountered one like her yet.

The leading theme in this book is how abuse will affect the mind and affections of a victim. How a victim is left alone, ignored, blamed even, and is left so vulnerable to the slightest hint of what they think is love. They think, this is the best I can ever hope for. This is better than it was before, so it must mean it’s all I’m worth. And sometimes things really are good, but sometimes they’re really fucking not, and Ksenia was unlucky enough to first read the definition of love from the dictionary of Josh, except Josh is a victim too and his definition of love is all wrong, too. This book does an amazing job at never victim-blaming anyone but also at showing the effects of your first, your second, your life-long abuse, because those things can’t be ignored when we talk about abuse and especially when we talk about surviving it.

Ksenia isn’t magically saved by her love for Lexi, or by Lexi’s love for her, but she’s given the tools to dig herself out of eighteen years of wrong, and that’s the most powerful message you can send readers.

There are so many other things I loved about this book. Everyone is queer (Ksenia is possibly genderqueer and attracted to multiple genders, Josh is fat, pansexual and gender non conforming, Lexi is Black and discovers her multiple-gender-attraction throughout the novel), the writing, as I said before, is absolutely beautiful and atmospheric. The faeries are seriously creepy as fuck and I loved (hated) them. The conclusion was the best one I could hope for. But seriously, the best thing of all is everything I talked about for most of my review.

Now more than ever I encourage you to read the trigger warnings and know that it’s okay if you think you can’t handle them; these aren’t things that are just mentioned in passing, they are very real in the novel and it WILL get super uncomfortable even if this stuff isn’t usually a trigger to you. But if you think you can, give this book a try because it’s so, so worth it.

Trigger Warnings: incest, codependency, abuse, sexual assault and rape, death on page, violence, body horror, parental neglect.

ARC Review: A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian // more F/F historical romance where women take revenge on shitty men? yes please

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

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A seductive thief

Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly?

Finds her own heart

For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman.

Has been stolen

When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

Release date: August 6th

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★★★★✩

Historical romance is a genre I rarely read but with the recent surge of f/f historical romance I find myself more and more interested in the genre. Or maybe it’s just that I’m so starved of f/f that I’ll read it no matter the genre.

This was my first book by Cat Sebastian and after hearing great things by my friends I was maybe slightly disappointed that I couldn’t give this novella a full 5 stars, but I still enjoyed it a lot, and it did made me curious to try her full length novels.

The story follows Alice, a disowned woman, and Molly, lady’s maid and former thief. The book is quite short so things move quickly in terms of both characters realizing their attraction to each other, and what worked well is their difference in experience when it comes to attraction to other women. It was still “slow burn” enough if you keep in mind that this is a novella that has to start and end in less than 100 pages, and I really enjoyed it. There also was no relationship drama or misunderstanding/miscommunication, which I always appreciate.

The main social theme was how Alice, who comes from an abusive home, has been wrongfully disowned by her father because of, you guessed it, misogyny. And like in all the best fiction, the revenge is so, so sweet. I am personally all for f/f histrom being about badass women getting revenge on the shitty men in their lives, and this is the third f/f histrom I’ve read that follows this pattern and I have to say I don’t mind it one bit if all the other historical sapphic fiction sees not only women getting together but also overthrowing the patriarchy in small but significant ways.

In terms of what didn’t make this a 5 stars, it’s a mix of things but I feel like most of it is just this not being my comfort genre. I also felt like I could have done with a little more relationship development. I’m all for women liking each other and it not being complicated or too angsty, even in historical times. And I really did love the romance, I just think it was a little forgettable for my taste. But there was so much I loved, and it’s refreshing to see a relationship between two women where they’re certainly aware of the world they live in but they also never face homophobia on the page. Also, did I mention one of the main characters has a little daughter? I’ve never an f/f where one of them is a mom of a small kid that gets to be part of their eventual happy ending.

For those who haven’t read the rest of this series: I haven’t either and I still enjoyed it. I do feel like maybe I lacked a bit of context (both in-the-series and historical), but the book one cameo had me intrigued and curious to eventually read that book and properly meet those characters.

So overall I would say this is an excellent read both if you’re not a historical romance reader but want to read more f/f no matter the genre and if you’re used to historical fiction and are looking to read more diverse and get into some sapphic reading.

ARC Review: A Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite // historical F/F goodness + women have always been present in science and art no matter what we’ve been told

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

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As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Release date: June, 25th (today!!! it’s out!)

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★★★★★

I don’t often read historical fiction but I’ve been trying to make exceptions for queer histfic, especially when they’re f/f. And there’s a special set of emotions I go through while reading, the most unpleasant of which is the fear that something bad will happen, that will make me recoil and make me want to put down the book not because it’s not good but because of the unnecessary bad stuff (read: homophobia, transphobia, racism, violence against women, etc) that traditionally has been associated with historical fiction. It’s realistic, you say, to which I say: ✨fuck off✨

This premise just so I can talk about what it did to me to go into this book and soon realize I needed to stop bracing myself for the stuff I mentioned above, because, amazingly, it kept not coming. And there’s a lesson for histfic authors: you don’t have to pretend that historical times weren’t a cesspool of misogyny, homophobia and racism, but it’s entirely possible to write a book for the people who have historically been hurt and marginalized that focuses on the good stuff instead of on the awful. This book is proof of that.

It’s not that this book shies away from a lot of stuff including misogyny and the fact that the two women won’t ever be able to live their relationship publicly. But it’s written so delicately and carefully that as long as you know the content warnings you don’t have to be scared that things are going to get bad. In fact, things get so, so good.

This is a romance that’s certainly good and wholesome and that made me so happy. But the romance is almost secondary to the beautiful messages this book sends about art, science, and the presence and importance of women in both fields, and how this presence has always been there, whether we care to know it or not.

And, you know, this is a book about two cis, white women. But it manages to be intersectional and acknowledge issues that wouldn’t necessary touch the lives of the two main characters, in a way that makes anybody feel welcome while reading. I can’t stress enough how books like this are so important.

The relationship itself was very cute and while the MCs got together a little soon for my liking (with necessary later drama), I still liked everything about it. Catherine, the widow, had never explored her attraction to women and although she’s older than Lucy she is kind of the more inexperienced of the two. I really liked that and it was so great to see them explore consent in every scene together. There’s also a little bit of an age gap (I think it’s about 10 years, Catherine is 35 and Lucy 25), which is not something I usually love in romance, but the fact that they’re both relatively older and both have experience in love/dating, as well as their own interests and expertise made me enjoy it and not really care about the gap at all. They both had things to teach each other and they helped one other out in so many ways, not in a “love fixes everything” way but in a way where they both figured out who they want, who they deserve to be and that was so beautiful to see.

I also loved the writing style so much I actually got mad that I was reading this with a read-out-loud app because I couldn’t highlight the best quotes. But that also means I definitely want to reread it sometime when time will allow me to, because it was so atmospheric and at times poetic, I just have to sit down and read it with my own two eyes.

Sometimes the endings of romance books can seem a little weak, but not this book’s. It was actually one of the most satisfying endings ever (and I’m not only talking about the romance but the actual plot too). Everything came together so nicely and I might or might not have started bawling my eyes out while I was finishing washing the dishes because it was just THAT good.

So, if it’s not obvious, I think if you are uncertain whether to buy this book or not you should definitely go for it. If you don’t normally read historical romance, let this one be your exception. If you’re a historical romance veteran, go for it without a doubt. If you’re craving sapphic romance, this is your fix. You can thank me later and scream @ me about how good it is.

CW: misogyny, talks of homophobic mentality, mention of past nonconsensual sexual acts, mention of a dead parent

ARC Review: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

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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Raised among the ruins of a conquered mountain nation, Maren dreams only of sharing a quiet life with her girlfriend Kaia—until the day Kaia is abducted by the Aurati, prophetic agents of the emperor, and forced to join their ranks. Desperate to save her, Maren hatches a plan to steal one of the emperor’s coveted dragons and storm the Aurati stronghold.

If Maren is to have any hope of succeeding, she must become an apprentice to the Aromatory—the emperor’s mysterious dragon trainer. But Maren is unprepared for the dangerous secrets she uncovers: rumors of a lost prince, a brewing rebellion, and a prophecy that threatens to shatter the empire itself. Not to mention the strange dreams she’s been having about a beast deep underground…

With time running out, can Maren survive long enough to rescue Kaia from impending death? Or could it be that Maren is destined for something greater than she could have ever imagined?

Release date: July 30th

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★★★✩

An interesting worldbuilding and a perfect story for fans of The Dragon Prince, which was ultimately just a little too forgettable for me.

This book starts with a really great premise, a QPOC girl who decides to go save her girlfriend and undertakes a journey in a very interesting fantasy world with dragons that can bond to humans.

I thought the execution was okay for a debut, but if you’ve read a lot of fantasy books this will read a little too generic. The protagonist, Maren, is on a deadline to save her girlfriend, and yet we conveniently forget about the time issue for the time that it takes Maren to learn useful skills and important bits of worldbuilding and forge new friendships and relationships. Then time is suddenly relevant again and everything has to move forward rather fast. So, overall the pacing doesn’t usually bother me and it didn’t here, but it was definitely something I noticed. Some things were also very predictable, and all the foreshadowing was very obviously foreshadowing from the moment you read it and not 100 pages later when it actually became relevant. This is all just nitpicking and it’s just something you notice if you’ve read a lot of books, like I said.

Probably my favorite part of the whole book was the dragon egg that reminded me so much of The Dragon Prince, one of my favorite shows. It was really cute.

Maren is a bi girl in an already established relationship with a girl, that will be the reason for her whole quest. And here comes the part of this review that I dread to write, because it’s impossible for me not to mention it but as a bi girl I am aware of all the nuance in this. Of course, there’s a boy and Maren is like, immediately attracted to him. While still in a relationship with Kaia, her girlfriend. Think of it as you like, I personally was annoyed at this aspect of the story. There are other ways to show bisexual attraction without involving actual emotional cheating (and I use this term because it was more than just, “oh he’s so hot.”). Does it happen IRL? Of course. But maybe it’s not great in general and especially when the bisexual character is the one doing it. In any case I was mostly able to overlook it and pin it to the writer’s inexperience, I just want to warn other bisexual readers that this is something that happens.

So, would I recommend this book? I think the worldbuilding was interesting and it has a lot of potential for the rest of the series, if you can overlook some of the more debut-y aspects. I’m going to keep an eye out for the next installment if I remember, but even just a few weeks after reading it I don’t remember enough about this to really crave the sequel.

ARC Review: The Queen of Rhodia (Tales of Inthya #3) by Effie Calvin

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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It has been sixteen months since Princess Esofi arrived in Ieflaria, and eight since her marriage to Crown Princess Adale. The princesses have a peaceful life together, preparing to become co-regents and raising their baby dragon, Carinth.

Their peace is shattered when Esofi’s mother, Queen Gaelle of Rhodia, arrives in Birsgen. She has heard about Carinth and believes that she deserves custody of him due to her greater devotion to Talcia, Goddess of Magic.

Adale and Esofi have no intention of giving up their son, but Gaelle is impossible to reason with—and there’s no telling what lengths she’ll go to in order to get what she wants.

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★★★★.5✩

I was so proud to see that the few minor issues I had with the first installment of this series were completely absent here. Not to brag but I KNEW IT and I love seeing that I was right about the writer’s potential.

So, our main characters Esofi and Adale got married and are now in an established relationship and dealing with their dragon son and with the political repercussions of The Things That Happened in book one. Of course Esofi’s mother, who is a fucking abusive bitch, enters the picture and stirs trouble. Plot happens, they’re still gay, the MCs from book two have cameos and they’re also gay, everything’s good, the end.

In all seriousness, I loved how this book dealt with pretty much everything. I knew it was going to be tough to read because of the abuse that Esofi went through her whole life and because she was forced to deal with her mother again. I wouldn’t say that any of that particular plot line was, strictly speaking, pleasant to read, and it didn’t offer me personallyany sort of closure because of the particular abuse dynamics here, but I know it will help another victim of abuse out there, and I’m so glad.

I don’t usually care for established relationship conflict in most cases, but here I thought it was done so well and so delicately. I’m really grateful to Effie Calvin for giving this couple their well-deserved sequel and exploring things we usually don’t get to see in get-together romances.

I don’t know what else to say except that I loved this and that I’m going to pick up book two as soon as I can (yes, I know, I suck, but in my defense this was perfectly understandable without having read book 2 since it followed the couple from book one, okay).

LGBTQIAP+ Books that Don’t Feature AlloCis M/M Relationships, Part 2

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find part 1 here🌈

 

Hey friends! Pride month is here!!! This post is a bit later than I would have liked but with real life keeping me busy I’m only now managing to post it. With pride month come a lot of really cool readathons that are a perfect opportunity to branch out and read more diversely, whether you already read a lot of queer books throughout the year or not.

So I remembered I wrote this post last year with the same title as this one, and I thought since I’ve read a lot more books in the meantime I would update this list so y’all don’t end up only reading the same allocis m/m romances that, frankly, don’t make your reading very diverse.

(PS: see also my F/F romance recs from last year)

So, what are “LGBTQIAP+ books that don’t feature allocis m/m relationships”?

Basically anything where the focus isn’t two allo and cis men in a m/m relationship. This varies from m/m where one of the main characters is trans or asexual or aromantic, to a m/f romance where one (or both!) are bi or pan or queer, to f/f, to f/nonbinary, etc etc. They can also be books with queer characters that don’t have any romance in it! I’m also only going to mention books where at least one queer character has a POV or is the love interest or is otherwise very prominent. And these are all books I’ve read and enjoyed or at least thought that the queer rep was good (although obviously I can’t speak for a whole community). So let’s get right into it!

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🏳️‍🌈 Not M/M:

Far From the Tree by Robin Benway – f/f romance; lesbian character; family/sibling focus | YA | my review

Toil & Truble (anthology) – various queer characters, among which many f/f romances and m/f | YA | my review

An Unkindness of Ghosts by Rivers Solomon – fantasy, nonbinary/nonbinary romance (not a big focus); autistic intersex MC | Adult

Shootaround by Suspu – webcomic, different relationships including f/f, polyam f/f/f, m/f with a trans character, m/m in the past, and basically everyone is queer | YA

Under the Lights by Dahlia Adler – f/f romance, lesbian MC, bisexual LI | YA | my review

The Princess and the Fangirl by Ashley Poston – contemporary f/f romance | YA | my review

On The Fly by P.J. Trebelhorn – contemporary f/f romance | Adult | my review

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy by Alyssa Cole – contemporary f/f romance | NA

Into the Drowning Deep by Mira Grant – sci-fi horror, f/f romance, autistic lesbian and bisexual characters | NA/Adult | my review

Graham’s Delicacies by Em Ali – f/nonbinary, m/m, m/nonbinary romances | NA | my review

The Afterward by E.K. Johnston – fantasy f/f romance | YA

Proud by Juno Dawson – anthology with different types of queer character and relationships (although a disappointing lack of ace/aro characters) | YA | my review

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum – contemporary f/f romance | YA | my review

The Stars are Legion by Kameron Hurley – fantasy f/f romance, all lesbian cast | Adult | my review

Ms Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan – historical f/f romance | Adult

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – fantasy f/f romance; multiple queer characters | Adult

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins – contemporary f/f; multiple queer side characters | YA | my review

The Queen of Rhodia by Effie Calvin – fantasy, established f/f couple | NA

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter – fantasy, f/f romance (I think they’re both bi) + pansexual character | YA | I haven’t written a review for this yet but please, please, please, don’t go into this book without knowing what you’re getting yourself into. Massive trigger warnings for emotional abuse, incest, neglect, sexual assault, death, body horror.

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🌈 M/M but not allocis:

Pisces Hooks Taurus by Anyta Sunday – contemporary m/m; demisexual character | NA | my review

Squared Away by Annabeth Albert – contemporary m/m; ace character| Adult | my review

Stake Sauce by RoAnna Sylver – urban fantasy, m/m (with a hint of polyamory) with trans and aro/ace character| NA

The Past and Other Things that Should Stay Buried by Shaun David Hutchinson – contemporary, m/m romance (not the focus of the book though) with a trans character| YA

The Perfect Assassin by K.A. Doore – fantasy, ace main character | NA

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🏳️‍🌈 M/F but at least one of them is queer:

Sweet on the Greek by Talia Hibbert – contemporary m/f romance; bisexual main character| NA

Tash Hearts Tolstoy by Kathryn Ormsbee – contemporary m/f romance; ace character| YA

Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire – fantasy, (only hinted at) m/f romance; ace MC + trans character| YA

King Of Fools by Amanda Foody – m/f romance; bisexual main character; brief m/m and side f/f | YA | my review

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🌈 No romance/romance not the focus or not resolved:

Vengeful by V.E. Schwab – ace main character| Adult

I Was Born For This by Alice Oseman – trans and gay main character| YA

The Disasters by M.K. England – sci-fi, no actual romance I guess but kind of somewhat of a m/f vs m/m love triangle (bisexual character), plus trans side character| YA | my review

The Gilded Wolves by Roshani Chokshi – fantasy, kind of a m/f vs m/m love triangle, bi or pan characters, but the romance is not resolved yet| YA | my review

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🏳️‍🌈 Not sure if they belong on this list so I’m going to write them in a tiny font:

The Wicker King by K. Ancrum – m/m/f romance with heavy focus on the m/m side | YA 

No End by Erly and Kromi – there’s prominent m/m romances but all main characters are queer (ace, bi, pan, trans and lesbian, and more to come because the comic is ongoing) | YA | my review

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And this is it for this post. I really hope this is helpful and it inspires some of you who want to diversify your queer reading, and tackle those pride month challenges and readathons.

Happy pride month y’all, and remember to celebrate all the colors and all the letters of the rainbow ❤️🧡💛💚💙💜