ARC Review: The Weight of Living by M.A. Hinkle

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

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When she arrives for a working vacation, shy photographer Trisha Ivy doesn’t expect much from Cherrywood Grove. Then she runs into beautiful, confident Gabi Gonzalez, a caterer working all the same weddings… and also the daughter of Trisha’s favorite childhood TV star. Trisha can’t resist getting to know her. After all, she’s only in town for the summer, and Gabi is straight. What harm could it do?

But as it turns out, Gabi’s easy charm is a facade. Since the sudden death of her father, Gabi has been pulling away from her family and what she really wants, weighed down by secrets she can’t express. Trisha might be the perfect person to help her, but is getting so involved in Gabi’s life really the right choice?

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★★★★✩

This was a truly beautiful and well-written book. It dealt with so many different life experiences, especially about the many ways different people can come out to both themselves and others. I particularly liked and related to Gabi’s own path in coming out and how this isn’t always as straight-forward as media (or real life) usually portrays it.

On the other hand was Trisha’s own history as a gay trans woman, and I feel like both stories were dealt with in a very serious and delicate manner. There was definitely something in both of them that every queer person might relate to, and in many ways this book was a study in being queer, particularly a queer woman.

I haven’t read the previous two books in this series and this didn’t affect my enjoyment: past characters make cameos here, but that’s not what I want to talk about. I want to talk about how I wish more romance series had a mix of queer pairings and experiences, and while I don’t know how male queerness is handled in the first two, I really appreciated that this third book focused entirely on being a queer woman.

We so rarely get to see this and there were certainly types of experiences that this book didn’t handle, but we have a gay trans woman, a young gay woman who’s never been in the closet, a bi woman married to a man, and a woman who, despite growing up in a queer family, still struggles with her own coming out process. It’s… real, and it’s raw and this is a book I would have loved to read when I was just past my own questioning and coming to terms with who I was for the first time. I still loved to read it now and there were so many moments I highlighted because they just fit.

There were other themes such as family, friendship, death and grief that, paired with how seriously everything else was handled, made this book rather heavy to read, particularly if you, like me, expect the uh, more “usual” kind of (lighthearted) romance. That is not to say that it was difficult to read or that I didn’t want to read: I basically read this in three sitting on three different days because every time I started reading I didn’t want to stop. But it was emotionally heavy and I saw it more as a study or queerness, like I mentioned before, and as a character study.

The best way I can summarize my experience with this book is in two very separate statements:

a) what a wonderful book;
b) I didn’t have fun reading this book.

The second thing isn’t necessarily negative; some books aren’t meant to be fun. Maybe if I had read the first two in the series I would have known what to expect, but I didn’t, and as a general rule I’m expecting to experience at least a little bit of fun while reading a contemporary romance.

Speaking of the romance itself, it comes, but it comes very late. It makes sense within the book, much more than if things had been rushed: the relationship is very well developed and sweet, but it’s a friendship for a higher percentage of the book than what I would expect from a book marketed as, you guessed it, a romance.

Maybe your best bet is going in without expectations of what this book is or isn’t, but if you’ve read this far into this review I guess I already gave you some expectations. In any case, this is a novel I would highly recommend for its many themes and a pairing we need more of (trans f/cis f). I don’t know if I will go back and read the first two books in this series, but I definitely want to keep an eye for future work of the author.

Rep: cis Mexican-American gay woman, trans gay white atheist woman

TW: grief, loss of family member, discussions of homophobia and transphobia, food, straight weddings, religion

ARC Review: The Unspoken Name by A.K. Larkwood

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

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Summary: What if you knew how and when you will die?

Csorwe does — she will climb the mountain, enter the Shrine of the Unspoken, and gain the most honored title: sacrifice.

But on the day of her foretold death, a powerful mage offers her a new fate. Leave with him, and live. Turn away from her destiny and her god to become a thief, a spy, an assassin—the wizard’s loyal sword. Topple an empire, and help him reclaim his seat of power.

But Csorwe will soon learn – gods remember, and if you live long enough, all debts come due.

Release date: February 11th

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★★★★✩

Coming up with a way to first introduce The Unspoken Name in a review is, at the very least, complicated. This is a novel with many layers and many aspects that cohabit peacefully with one another, and to put focus on one before the others would be to build wrongful expectations for what is the end result.

…and there I tricked you by giving you what I feel like should be the first thing to keep in mind when going into this novel. If you expect it to be fantasy more than scifi, or plot more than characters, or characters more than plot, or relationships more than characters, then you’ll end up expecting something this novel isn’t.

Keeping that in mind, now we can move on and talk about the different aspects!

The first thing I realized I liked about this book was the writing. I will admit it does feel like a debut novel but like, in a good way that makes me want to read the author’s future books and see how she improves based on what I already know she does well. I personally love when authors don’t force-feed you information about characters’ intentions and feelings/reactions at any given moment but let you understand it from the context and what you already know about them. I think this aspect was excellent and it had sometimes hilarious, sometimes powerful effects in moments that would have been spoiled by an overly detailed description. I also think each character’s voice was very distinct and immediately recognizable.

Speaking of which, I think characters and relationships are where this book truly shined for me. Amidst a lot of plot and action, these characters bleed through the pages and you absorb them slowly, as you would with a real person. By the end they all felt real in a way that doesn’t always happen with fantasy, and I truly Felt for their relationships.

The romantic aspect was really enjoyable but to be honest, not my favorite part. It was, I guess, just not as present as I usually like it to be, but I do feel that the sapphic (!!!!) relationship was very naturally built up and cute. I was also under the wrong impression (I don’t remember if because of reviews or why) that there would also be a side m/m romance but there is not (if you’ve read it and see a romance in That…I really don’t know what to tell you), and I would like to add: thank the Nine Gods. I don’t think there’s anyone here who’s allocishet but anyway there are like: three confirmed mlm characters (at least one of them is bi/pan) and three wlw ones.

The plot was intriguing and I was never bored. I do think it had some pacing issues, not something that necessarily always bothered me (for example, I love when it got a little slower for the sake of showing us certain characters and relationships), but it did make things a little weird in a couple of points. If you’re someone who cares a lot about plot and pacing, you might notice and care about this more than I did.

The worldbuilding is so unique and I’m not even going to pretend like I’ve understood how things work well enough to be able to talk about them but basically it’s a fantasy + scifi setting in which together with more high fantasy elements we also have uhh,, space (?) ships and you can jump between worlds.

So, would I recommend this? Absolutely! If you’re into adult fantasy and/or casually queer (sapphic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!) books then this one is for you. And I’m really looking forward to the next book (by the way, this book can be a standalone because it has an arc that’s fully resolved by the end, which is even more reason to give it a try!), hoping it will follow Tal (my favorite character tbh).

TWs: human & animal sacrifices, violence, gore, drug use, death, alcohol, self mutilation

F/F February TBR

Today I officially decided to join next month’s F/F February readathon! I am so excited for this, first of all I have a lot of F/F books I own and especially a lot of novellas that were free at some point and I just never get to them, so this is going to be my chance to read some of them. And then any even that celebrates not only F/F relationships but sapphic books in general (like the announcement post explains) obviously is going to own my whole heart.

I decided to just focus mostly on what I already own so I am not joining the challenges, although some of these books definitely meet some of them.

If you want to join but don’t know what to read, make sure to read Charlotte’s announcement that also has A LOT of awesome recs, divided both by genre and by readathon challenges! I also have F/F recommendation posts here and here so make sure to check them out if you need inspiration for joining in on the fun.

I will try not to read anything else, but I am in the middle of my tgcf reread (that’s like, probably 2000+ pages if it was a physical book) and I don’t want to pause it for a whole month, so I will also be reading that although it’s not f/f.

I am sharing here a tentative TBR where I basically just dumped all the books I found in my kindle/audible/shelves that meet the criteria for the challenge and that I think I might read. I definitely know I won’t be able to read all of them but that’s okay! The titles in bold are the ones I definitely count on reading, the other ones are options I’m giving myself in case I finish the ones I want to get to first.

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Books:

👭 Female General and Eldest Princess by 请君莫笑 

👭 Lesbisch für Anfängerinnen: Willkommen in der WG! by Celia Martin

👭 Long Steady Distance by Helena Hill

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Novellas:

👭 A Lady’s Desire by Lily Maxton

👭 That Could Be Enough by Alyssa Cole

👭 Learning Curves by Ceillie Simkiss

👭 Deadline by Stephanie Ahn

👭 Special Delivery by J.A. Armstrong

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Short stories:

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👭 Swelter by Jules Kelley

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Audiobooks:

👭 Carmilla by J. Sheridan Le Fanu

👭 Steel Crow Saga by Paul Krueger

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Graphic novels:

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👭Sunstone vol. 3 (and possibly also volumes 4—6) by Stjepan Šejić

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Are you joining the readathon? What’s your TBR? 

F/F romance recs: 2019 edition

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Last year I ended up reading more f/f than m/m for the first time since I started reading queer fiction. If you’ve read my wrap-up post for 2019 you’ll see that out of 7 new favorites, 4 were f/f and 3 were m/m. I count that as a win on my part and in this post I wanted to mention the books that maybe didn’t make it into my favorites or in any of the other categories I mentioned in the above post, but I still want to recommend.

As with my previous post, I’m going chronologically with my recs, and the ones that I liked best are in bold. There are more f/f books I read than these but these are the ones I fully feel comfortable recommending!

See also the f/f rec post I wrote in 2018 

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Into the Drowning Deepby Mira Grant – ★★★★★ // review

The Afterward by E.K. Johnston – ★★★★★ // no review, just endless screaming

The Weight of the Stars by K. Ancrum – ★★★★★ // review

The Stars are Legions by Kameron Hurley – ★★★.5✩✩ // review

Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure by Courtney Milan – ★★★★✩ // no review, just read it for old sapphic ladies kicking some ass

The Priory of the Orange Tree by Samantha Shannon – ★★★★★ // no review just pterodactyl screeches

Her Royal Highness by Rachel Hawkins – ★★★★.5✩ // review

Never-Contented Things by Sarah Porter – ★★★★.5✩ // review

The Queen of Rhodia by Effie Calvin – ★★★★.5✩ // review

The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite – ★★★★★ // review

A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian – ★★★★✩ // review

Treasure by Rebekah Weatherspoon – ★★★★★ // review

Out on Good Behavior by Dahlia Adler – ★★★★★ // no review but it’s a really nice college romance

The Impossible Contractby K.A. Doore – ★★★★.75✩ // review

Bloom Into You vol.1 by Nio Nakatani – ★★★★✩ // no review but it’s cute

The Deep by Rivers Solomon – ★★★★.5✩ // review

Tamen de gushi (Their Story) by Tan Jiu – ★★★★★ // no review but oh my god it’s my new favorite manhua

Being Hers by Anna Stone – ★★★✩✩ // no review but it’s good

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And this is it as for last year’s F/F recs! I hope this post was useful, I had a lot of fun going through last year’s books and I hope I can find a lot more recs this year.

Have you read any of these? What did you think of them? How many f/f did you read last year?

ARC Review: The Impossible Contract by K.A. Doore // or: sometimes a family can be an assassin, her girlfriend, an annoying magical nerd and three dead camels

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

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Second in K. A. Doore’s high fantasy adventure series the Chronicles of Ghadid, a determined assassin travels to the heart of the Empire in pursuit of a powerful mark, for fans of Robin Hobb, Sarah J. Maas, and S. A. Chakraborty

Thana has a huge reputation to live up to as daughter of the Serpent, who rules over Ghadid’s secret clan of assassins. Opportunity to prove herself arrives when Thana accepts her first contract on Heru, a dangerous foreign diplomat with the ability to bind a person’s soul under his control.

She may be in over her head, especially when Heru is targeted by a rival sorcerer who sends hordes of the undead to attack them both. When Heru flees, Thana has no choice than to pursue him across the sands to the Empire that intends to capture Ghadid inside its iron grip.

A stranger in a strange city, Thana’s only ally is Mo, a healer who may be too noble for her own good. Meanwhile, otherworldly and political dangers lurk around every corner, and even more sinister plans are uncovered which could lead to worldwide devastation. Can Thana rise to the challenge—even if it means facing off against an ancient evil?

Release date: November 12th

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★★★.75✩

This book is the second in The Chronicles of Ghadid series and while it follows different main characters than The Perfect Assassin, you shouldn’t jump directly into this one if you haven’t read that first, because you will miss important information and context that makes this world so interesting.

And speaking of the world, after reading TPA I knew I loved it, but this second book solidified my appreciation for it (and it made me realize that it’s perfectly possible to get attached to a fictional city, and oh how I am attached to Ghadid).

While TPA was more focused on the city, giving a cozy introductions to the world and its rules, The Impossible Contract expands our horizon and shows us what’s beyond Ghadid, bringing us to the sands below and to the Empire’s capital. I loved seeing the different rules and customs, I loved the different stakes that this book’s characters faced, and the fact that magic played a much bigger role than in book one. It’s also simultaneously rather darker than TPA and funnier, and a little more hopeful. Also, camels. 🐪

TIC follows Thana, Amastan’s cousin, who has a contract to kill Heru, the Empress’s en-marabi (sort of a necromancer) and a man whose work many people consider blasphemous. When she doesn’t succeed on her first try, she finds that there’s so much more going on, and the stakes are higher than she could have ever imagined. Also it doesn’t hurt that her healer is really cute. What follows is a rather action-packed adventure among zombies, guuls, sand, magic, sand, and more sand. And have I mentioned camels? 🐪

Thana, Mo and Heru are one of the best and most fun travelling trio I’ve ever met in fiction. Heru is exactly the type of character I can’t help falling in love with, with his deadpan, accidental humor. He’s a first class nerd, a Ravenclaw who does everything he does for the sake of expanding the horizons of knowledge. Someone please keep him away from camels.

Thana is a wonderful MC. She wants to prove herself not just as the daughter of a famous assassin, she wants to built her own name and to do so she ends up having to cross the desert with unlikely allies. My heart ached for and with her more than once, and I just wanted her to get her happy ending.

Mo is the other side of the nerd coin, she and Heru have very different principles but rely on similar strengths. Usually it’s the MC that has to see their beliefs challenged during their character arc, but here Mo takes on that role and it works so well. I love her (and so does Thana).

I’m sure I could say much more (and come up with more camel jokes), but I’ll finish by saying that this was such a joyful experience for me, and this series is so much fun to read and to talk about with my friends who’ve also read it. Even though I’ve already read the ARC I think I will listen to the audiobook when it comes out because that’s how I read TPA and it was so nice.

So, if you’re looking for a well-crafted world, a cute f/f romance set in a scary desert, well-rounded characters and an adventure that’s above all fun, definitely get your hands on this book. And don’t forget to read The Perfect Assassinfirst for soft gay ace assassins and murder mysteries.

TWs: blood, gore, blood magic, violence, slavery, vomiting, injury, magical healing, animal deaths, eye horror, minor character deaths, zombies, mind control

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