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.

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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).

Audiobook Review: Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins /// royal f/f romance in Scotland

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Summary: Millie Quint is devastated when she discovers that her sort-of-best friend/sort-of-girlfriend has been kissing someone else. And because Millie cannot stand the thought of confronting her ex every day, she decides to apply for scholarships to boarding schools . . . the farther from Houston the better.

Millie can’t believe her luck when she’s accepted into one of the world’s most exclusive schools, located in the rolling highlands of Scotland. Everything about Scotland is different: the country is misty and green; the school is gorgeous, and the students think Americans are cute.

The only problem: Mille’s roommate Flora is a total princess.

She’s also an actual princess. Of Scotland.

At first, the girls can barely stand each other–Flora is both high-class and high-key–but before Millie knows it, she has another sort-of-best-friend/sort-of-girlfriend. Even though Princess Flora could be a new chapter in her love life, Millie knows the chances of happily ever afters are slim . . . after all, real life isn’t a fairy tale . . . or is it?

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★★★★.5✩

I devoured this book on audio in basically a day and oh my god, friends. There is a very specific emotion that us sapphic girls feel when presented with good sapphic content in fiction, and depending on our tastes in terms of tropes and genres, different sapphic books will hit us differently. The feeling I got from this book was one of pure joy from getting a royal romance, usually reserved for a girl falling in love with a prince, starring two girls.

I loved Millie, the protagonist, right away. She’s smart and she wants to be a geologist!!! She wants to go to a school in Scotland and part of the reason why she loves Scotland is because of its cool geology. Not to be so me, but give me any girl protagonist who’s a scientist or wants to be one and I’ll immediately be ten times more invested in her story. Also, her interest wasn’t just mentioned once in passing, it’s actually pretty much present throughout the book and she has her own collection of minerals and rocks (I do too!! okay, technically my mom does, but that’s not the point) and UGH I love her so much okay!! I have no actual idea how accurate some of the things she said were. Since I was on audiobook I didn’t feel like pausing every time and google or ask my mom if the geology stuff was correct BUT whatever, I appreciate the sentiment in any case (and if you’re a geologist don’t @ me I’m just here for a fun gay time). Okay now I made it sound like this is way more about geology than it actually is, but no, it’s just I feel very strongly about geology so pardon me.

After a brief introduction to Millie’s family and friends back home, she gets to Scotland and we get that Hogwarts-y feeling of arriving to a place you know very little about (despite all the research Millie has done) and having to navigate through a new school and new people, most of which are filthy rich or straight up aristocrats. Among which is HRH Flora and, surprise surprise, Millie’s roommate.

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Their relationship can only be described as hate to love, as it often is when the couple starts off as roommates. Only after weeks of forced vicinity Millie’s perception of Flora starts to change, and I think although we don’t get Flora’s POV, the same could be said for her. I don’t want to wander too much into headcanons, but I believe that Flora started to view Millie under a new light after Millie’s coming out, and I found that such a realistic experience for sapphic people.

Speaking of coming outs, there were two, in two separate moments (Millie’s, which we know about since the very first page, but she comes out to her new friends in the school – she’s bi, and Flora’s, who is gay), and they both warmed my heart so much because of how they were handled. There’s also a “wait, you’re straight???” moment for one of the side characters that had me laughing for hours (okay, not literally but I have to laugh whenever I remember it). (No, don’t worry, there was no queerbait.)

While I wouldn’t call this book super diverse as a whole, it does deliver on casual queerness and on people never making a big deal out of it. I really appreciated both aspects and how much a non-issue it all was, I really felt like it was a book written for queer people instead of just about them, you know? ♥

Back to the romance, I loved Millie and Flora’s relationship. You can’t help but hate Flora in the beginning but by the end you’re almost as in love with her as Millie is (okay, not sure that’s possible actually). They got such cute and cliché romantic moments and they were TO DIE for. Twentybiteen is giving us such sapphic goodness!!!!

Anyway it’s been a while since a full-on gush review and I usually don’t really review audiobooks because those are the books I read purely for fun without reviewing in mind, but I couldn’t not talk about this. I went into it only for a good sapphic time and it never ever disappointed me.

I do want to say that if you’re expecting this to be completely realistic you should maybe change your mindset a little before you start reading. Yes, we all know there is no queen of Scotland and therefore no princess of Scotland. Maybe the blurb should make it more clear that it’s a fictional/alternate Scotland, but that’s hardly the first book series that does something like this. Of course, that’s easy for me to say because I’ve never been and I have no ties to Scotland, but I understand not liking the idea of changing things for the sake of the book. You do you and while it never bothered me I wanted to mention this aspect.

Another brief note for those who want to read this but haven’t read the first book in the series yet, go for it! I haven’t read book one either and as you can see I loved this book. It follows different characters and we do get to see the protagonists from the first installment (one of which is Flora’s older brother), but the book pretty much explains everything and we’re not left wondering who these people are. And if you’ve read book one and want to see them again, well read this book!

In conclusion, I don’t think this book is perfect, and if it hadn’t been f/f maybe I wouldn’t have liked it so much, but as you can see I loved it so much and I had such a good time reading it. I 100% recommend it to everyone!

TWs: mentions of loss of a parent in the past, mention of casual homophobia (“it’s just a phase”), several instances of “more than friends”(not challenged), sort of cheating (not the main couple).

ARC Review: King of Fools (The Shadow Game #2) by Amanda Foody

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: Indulge your vices in the City of Sin, where a sinister street war is brewing and fame is the deadliest killer of them all…

On the quest to find her missing mother, prim and proper Enne Salta became reluctant allies with Levi Glaisyer, the city’s most famous con man. Saving his life in the Shadow Game forced Enne to assume the identity of Seance, a mysterious underworld figure. Now, with the Chancellor of the Republic dead and bounties on both their heads, she and Levi must play a dangerous game of crime and politics…with the very fate of New Reynes at stake.

Thirsting for his freedom and the chance to build an empire, Levi enters an unlikely partnership with Vianca Augustine’s estranged son. Meanwhile, Enne remains trapped by the mafia donna’s binding oath, playing the roles of both darling lady and cunning street lord, unsure which side of herself reflects the truth.

As Enne and Levi walk a path of unimaginable wealth and opportunity, new relationships and deadly secrets could quickly lead them into ruin. And when unforeseen players enter the game, they must each make an impossible choice: To sacrifice everything they’ve earned in order to survive…

Or die as legends.

Release date: out now!

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King of Fools was one of my most anticipated sequels this year and I was not disappointed. Am I mad a this book and at Amanda Foody? Oh, hell yes. But I loved every second of it.

I believe that, in trilogies, second books should feel completely different from book one, and then book three should be an expansion of book two. We’ll see what book three has in store for us, but for now I can say that this book had a totally different feeling from Ace of Shades, and it was great.

Different were the themes, the stakes, the pacing, the POVs. We saw old and new characters in a different light, and the city of New Reynes took its own rightful place as almost a character of its own, with its rich history and legends, even more so than in the first installment.

This book is so rich and full of events, each leading to new and more complicated plot points, that it’s impossible to put it down. Even if you somehow weren’t hooked to the plot, the characters are so interesting and you love them so much that you can’t not keep reading.

Structurally speaking, KoF has two main differences: three POVs (Enne, Levi, Jac) and a both faster and slower pace. Faster because a lot more happens than in Ace, but spread out over several months instead of the ten days of Ace. I think that was necessary, although if we were to analyze it, some time skips were a little too convenient maybe, but I don’t care too much about that. It all flowed well and came together nicely (OR SHOULD I SAY NOT NICELY) for the grand finale.

If you’ve read Ace, you know how much Enne grew in those pages, and here we see the lovely results of that. Mainly we get to see Enne form her own girl gang and it’s everything you’ve ever needed in your life. I really appreciated the variety of girls there, even though obviously there needed to be a focus on only a few of them. Also, there was a lovely side f/f relationship and I’m ready to see more of it in the sequel.

While Enne changed a lot in a short time, Levi’s character development in Ace had more to do with our perception of him the longer we stayed in his head. In KoF, I think it’s fair to say that Levi does quite a bit of character development in the way that usually male characters (and men in general) do: his development is always the result of something that happens, usually something he regrets doing after seeing the consequences it had. I found this both realistic and frustrating at times, but in a way that was always consistent with who he was since the beginning of Ace.

Levi’s development was also integrated by an outside perspective, mainly Jac’s POV, into his flaws, but that’s not all Jac was there for, which was something I was afraid of at the beginning. I’m glad we saw Jac have his own story line and his own agenda, and I loved his POV so much. Jac’s POV also had one of the most terrifying scenes I’ve ever read, that literally had me forget to breathe while I was reading and I won’t easily forget. I just want to say: Jac Mardlin, I am so fucking proud of you.

I think the writing also did improve, and there were a couple of scenes like the one I just talked about that proved it, as well as certain……..decisions that Amanda Foody took. I am now equally excited and terrified for the sequel, because King of Fools was already a lot in terms of emotional wreckage.

In case it wasn’t clear, I FREAKING LOVED THIS BOOK AND I NEED BOOK 3 ASAP.

TWs: mention of drug abuse and addiction, character deaths, violence, blood, explosions, murder, torture, executions.

ARC Mini-review: Pomegranate Seeds by Melissa Jennings

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

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Summary: A collection of 6 poems about finding out how much the heart can take and where it truly belongs. The poetry collection also explores the author’s personal journey towards realising that they are polyamorous.

This micro-chapbook discusses polyamphobia, internalised polyamphobia, sexual imagery, and emotional self-harm.

Release date: June 21st

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★★★★.5✩

This short poetry book features poems about the author’s experience being polyamorous.

Like with all personal poems, it’s not easy to talk about them if you don’t share the same life experiences or identity, but even without being able to relate to them on a personal level, and even as someone who doesn’t read much poetry lately (and generally doesn’t have much experience reading poetry in English), I loved the imagery used and I could really feel the author’s feelings coming to life on page.

Short review for a short book, but I think polyam people will be able to find a piece of themselves here more than I could, and everyone else will be able to enjoy (and discover, if this is your first work by Melissa Jennings) the author’s vivid style.

ARC Mini-review: Stage Dreams by Melanie Gillman // western f/f + trans heist comic

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: In this rollicking queer western adventure, acclaimed cartoonist Melanie Gillman (Stonewall Award Honor Book As the Crow Flies) puts readers in the saddle alongside Flor and Grace, a Latinx outlaw and a trans runaway, as they team up to thwart a Confederate plot in the New Mexico Territory. When Flor–also known as the notorious Ghost Hawk–robs the stagecoach that Grace has used to escape her Georgia home, the first thing on her mind is ransom. But when the two get to talking about Flor’s plan to crash a Confederate gala and steal some crucial documents, Grace convinces Flor to let her join the heist.

Release date: September 3rd

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★★★

This comic is set in the Wild West and it’s a fun, heisty story about a trans woman who gets kidnapped and ends up working together with her kidnapper, who is a queer Latinx.

The style of the comic is cute although maybe not a personal favorite, but I love the color scheme and how it fits the scenery, and the facial expressions are so good!

This first volume is divided in a few chapters and I assume it’s going to be the first in a series, because the story is by no means done. There’s no cliffhanger though, and it’s satisfying as a standalone too, until the next one comes out.

So! Heist, Wild West, badass women falling in love while having adventures! Get on it!

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