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

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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: 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 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