Superhero

Webcomic Spotlight: SuperCakes

Cover of SuperCakes chapter labeled "Pancakes," featuring a half-Japanese girl and a redheaded white girl sitting at a table in a kitchen eating pancakes

Title: SuperCakes

Author: Kat Leyh

Genre: Superhero

Trigger Warnings: Nonrealistic violence (e.g. against ice monsters), mild body horror (characters dissolving into liquid/smoke)

Summary:

This comic is a  series of vignettes about super-powered girlfriends, May Ai and Molly LaMarck.

Review:

I found this on a Tumblr list of queer webcomics (which is where I seem to be finding most of my webcomics these days). It’s about two superhero girlfriends and their adventures as superheros and girlfriends. There isn’t really an overarching plot, there’s just a series of short, mostly-unconnected snapshots of their lives – May bringing Molly home for the holidays, for example, and the two of them fighting ice monsters while complaining that the ice prevented their pizza from being delivered.

Like all the webcomics I do in my webcomic spotlights, it’s super short. (At least for now – according to the comments section Kat plans to add more in the future, but as of now it hasn’t been updated since 2014.) And it’s fun and unique. Yeah the girls are superheros and have super powers, but it’s also kind of a slice of life, seeing them interact with each other and other people and complain about forgetting to put away the pancakes when they have to go do superhero stuff.

And it’s neat because sometimes you get epic superhero stuff like this:

Image of a girl in green with a green mask crouched on a fire escape with a girl in red who is partially made of mist flying above her

And sometimes you get cute slice-of-life stuff like this:

Two panels of a comic. The first features two girls lounging on a couch, a reheaded girl we can see clearly and a black-haired girl with her back to you. The redhead says "Ugh, I miss everything!" and the black-haired girl responds, "What? Are you joking? Crazy stuff happens in your lab All. The. Time." The second panel shows the same scene from slightly farther away. The black-haired girl says "Remember the time those alien spores made your cactus a quadruped? And carnivorous?" and the redhead responds, "Haha oh yeah. Killer Cactus Carlos."

Overall, it’s adorable, unique, and fun to read. And I for one am hoping it gets updated soon.

You can read it for free here!

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Science Fantasy

Review: Nimona

Cover of "Nimona," featuring three characters on a green background - a male knight with long blond hair, a male knight with black hair, a goatee, and one robotic arm, and in front of them a girl with mostly-shaved red hair and dragon wings
Image from Noelle Stevenson

Title: Nimona

Author: Noelle Stevenson

Genre: Science Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death

Back Cover:

Lord Ballister Blackheart has a point to make, and his point is that the good guys aren’t as good as they seem. He makes a comfortable living as a supervillain, but never really seems to accomplish much – until he takes on a new sidekick, Nimona, a shapeshifter with her own ideas of how things should be done. Unfortunately, most of those ideas involve blowing things up. Now Ballister must teach his young protégé some restraint and try to keep her from destroying everything, while simultaneously attempting to expose the dark dealings of those who claim to be the protectors of the kingdom – including his former best friend turned nemesis, Ambrosius Goldenloin.

Review:

I first heard of Nimona as a webcomic on Tumblr and I devoured the first three chapters. It was creative, unique, and hilarious. But by the time I got to it, only the first three chapters were available online – it had been published as a book, so Noelle had taken the rest of it down. So I put the book of my list of things to read.

This was a year ago. Now that I’ve finally started the task of working through my list of books I want to read (as opposed to my former method of just grabbing whatever looked interesting off the library shelf), I got around to reserving this at the library.

This is actually more like a graphic novel than a book, but I’m going to review it like I would a book.

Nimona is the title character – she’s the one in the middle on the cover. She’s a shapeshifter who just shows up at the secret lair of Ballister Blackheart, asking to be his sidekick in villainy. She’s overenthusiastic about violence and mayhem and making a mess of proper society. But she also has some trauma from her past that explains a lot about who she is once you find out about it. Overall, she’s just a super fun character to read about – especially with Ballister Blackheart to bounce off of.

Ballister, the “actual villain,” is not nearly as destruction-minded as Nimona. In fact, when the story starts, he’s trying to reveal the evil plot of the Institution, which proclaims to be protecting the citizens but Ballister discovers they’re really conducting experiments that will endanger everyone. He’s very much a rule-follower and tries to minimize Nimona’s death toll. He’s a nuanced character with a fascinating backstory and an interesting motive for being a villain (including a friendship with the antagonist Ambrosius Goldenloin), and I liked him a lot.

The apparent plot is Ballister and Nimona (reluctantly in the case of the latter) trying to stop the Institution from hurting people and the Institution trying to stop them. But really it’s more character-oriented. A lot of the beginning focuses on Ballister and Nimona’s relationship, with Ballister trying to rein her in. Then as it goes on, it focuses a lot on Ballister’s character, Goldenloin’s character, and their relationship in the past and Ballister’s story of becoming a villain. Nimona’s backstory also gets worked in and it culminates in a fiery, action-packed, dramatic climax.

Nimona has a lot of science fiction and fantasy tropes – there’s magic and shapeshifters and knights and kings, but there’s also mad science and mechanical limbs and an Institute conducting experiments involving electricity and stuff. It’s an awesome and creative blend of the two.

Also, the art is really cool. It’s very stylistic, and not exactly what I’d call beautiful, but it’s interesting and engaging and perfectly melds the science fiction and fantasy elements of the story. And it somehow fits the tone – dark topics, but still lighthearted. It’s creative and just overall fun to look at.

This is one of the more unique stories I’ve read in a while. It’s a fantastic blend of science fiction and fantasy, manages to be lighthearted and fun for most of it (and extremely emotional at the end), and develop fascinating, multi-layered characters that play around with tropes. It was great, and I thoroughly enjoyed the read.

And the best part:

You can read the first three chapters online for free here!

Dystopian

Review: Lizard Radio

Cover of "Lizard Radio," featuring a scale-like pattern of circles in varying shades of green with the silhouette of a large lizard and a short-haired person.
Image from Pat Schmatz

Title: Lizard Radio

Author: Pat Schmatz

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Gender-based violence, loss of a parent, death

Back Cover:

Fifteen-year-old Kivali has never fit in. As a girl in boys’ clothes, she is accepted by neither tribe, bullied by both. What are you? they ask. Abandoned as a baby wrapped in a T-shirt with an image of a lizard on the front, Kivali found a home with nonconformist artist Sheila. Is it true what Sheila says, that Kivali was left by a mysterious race of saurians and that she’ll one day save the world? Kivali doesn’t think so. But if it is true, why has Sheila sent her off to CropCamp, with its schedules and regs and what feels like indoctrination into a gov-controlled society Kivali isn’t sure has good intentions?

But life at CropCamp isn’t all bad. Kivali loves being outdoors and working in the fields. And for the first time, she has real friends: sweet, innocent Rasta; loyal Emmett; fierce, quiet Nona. And then there’s Sully. The feelings that explode inside Kivali whenever Sully is near—whenever they touch—are unlike anything she’s experienced, exhilarating and terrifying. But does Sully feel the same way?

Between mysterious disappearances, tough questions from camp director Ms. Mischetti, and weekly doses of kickshaw—the strange, druglike morsel that Kivali fears but has come to crave—things get more and more complicated. But Kivali has an escape: her unique ability to channel and explore the power of her animal self. She has Lizard Radio.

Will it be enough to save her?

Review:

I was going to wait to review this book until I had it sorted out in my head, but I’ve been thinking about it and I don’t think I’m ever going to sort it out. So heads up for a somewhat confused review written by a somewhat confused reviewer.

After I finished reading this, I tried to explain it to my fiance, which involved me giving a tangent-filled, disorderly, and increasingly agitated account of the events of Lizard Radio that ended with him completely baffled and me not even sure what I was trying to say. This book is hard to describe and hard to even wrap my head around.

Let’s start with Kivali. She’s right in the gray area between bender (transgender) and not, but chose not to transition. (In this world, transgender people are fine as long as they choose to transition before age 10.) I think bigender would be the best way to describe her, but I’m not really sure since she never gives herself a gender label. But anyway. She grew up with her guardian, Sheila, telling her that she was left behind by the saurians, a race of lizard-like aliens (I think?), and she kinda believes it. At least, she identifies strongly with lizards, to the point where she believes she has a lizard skin protecting her and occasionally has trance-like states where she feels like she actually is a large lizard. She also has lizard radio, which is like a psychic/trance thing where she gets visions of lizards and they talk to her … okay, it’s really hard to explain in words. My fiance suggested she could be schizophrenic – on one hand, it would fit, but on the other, so much weird stuff happens that some sort of supernatural/alien explanation almost feels like it makes more sense.

I thought Sully was going to get more page time than she did. She got quite a bit in the beginning as Kivali was falling for her, but in the middle and end not so much. For most of it, the romance angle was more Kivali dealing with her feelings than actually interacting with Sully. But she also had a close friend in Rasta and grows a friendship with Emmett and Nona, so it’s not like she was alone.

Then there’s the world. It’s some variety of dystopian world where the government has a lot of power and the value of community and working together are heavily emphasized – to the point where children between 15 and 17 are sent off to camps (like the CropCamp Kivali gets sent to) to learn how to get rid of their own individuality to become a community while learning a trade that will benefit society. But you don’t actually get a lot of the world. The story starts when Kivali gets to CropCamp and ends when she leaves, so all you really get is a microcosm of the world, ruled over by Ms. Mischetti, governed by gongs that announce when you can do things, and subject to strict regulations.

This book leaves you with so many questions. Is Kivali human or actually a saurian? What is lizard radio? How does this world even work? Is there a supernatural/alien explanation or is Kivali just absolutely insane? What is actually going on here? The plot is slow to start, and in the beginning the questions are what keep you hooked – how does this work? What does that word mean? But there aren’t answers. There aren’t ever answers. The questions are just left hovering in the air like the tension between two people who love each other but know it’s better for both of them if they just walk away.

This book is weird. It’s strange and unsettling and doesn’t make any sense – but at the same time it’s fascinating and beautiful and makes perfect sense. It’s dystopian without any of the grit. It’s paranormal without any actual paranormal events. It’s nonsense, but it’s fascinating, engrossing, wonderful nonsense. It’s a dystopian novel and a fever dream and Alice in Wonderland if Alice was part lizard and Wonderland was an agricultural camp.

I don’t have the proper words for what this book is. It’s one of those books where if someone asked if you liked it, you’d answer with “Well, it was interesting.” But it’s also one you can’t stop thinking about. As I told my fiance after finishing it, “Sometimes you finish a book and you just have to lay on the floor about it.” And I don’t know what more to say about Lizard Radio than that.

Did Not Finish, Fairy Tale

Review: A World Without Princes

Cover of "A World Without Princes," featuring a blond girl and a black-haired girl on either side of a blond boy whose face is in profile. Below them is a crest with two swans, one black and one white, on either side and the title of the book on a scroll across the crest.
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: A World Without Princes

Series: The School for Good and Evil #2

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, attempted violence

Spoiler Warning: This book is a sequel, so if you haven’t read The School for Good and Evil, this review will probably have spoilers.

Back Cover:

In the New York Times bestselling sequel to Soman Chainani’s debut, The School for Good and Evil, Sophie and Agatha are back in Gavaldon, living out their Happily Ever After, but life isn’t quite the fairy tale they expected.

Witches and princesses reside at the School for Girls, where they’ve been inspired to live a life without princes, while Tedros and the boys are camping in Evil’s old towers. A war is brewing between the schools, but can Agatha and Sophie restore the peace? Can Sophie stay good with Tedros on the hunt? And whose heart does Agatha’s belong to—her best friend or her prince?

Read to: Page 76

Review:

Immediately after finishing The School for Good and Evil, I reserved this book at the library. The School for Good and Evil was fantastic, and I wanted to read more and find out how the story turned out.

I’m not really sure how to put into words how I feel about this book. In many ways, it was a letdown. (Obviously, since I didn’t finish it.) But it could have been great and I’m really disappointed in some of the choices made for this book.

Warning: long review ahead – I have a lot of Feelings about this one. Scroll to the bottom for the tl;dr version.

Agatha and Sophie bothered me a tiny bit – not in the sense that I didn’t like them, because I still loved them, but in the sense that they weren’t the same people they were at the end of book one and it felt like a little of the character development from the first book had been undone (although I couldn’t put my finger on exactly why). Overall, it was a minor problem that I probably could look past, especially if they developed in this book as much as they did in the first one.

I loved the world. I loved it in the first book and I loved it here. There were some changes to the school (which I didn’t get fully introduced to before I stopped reading), but I think I would have enjoyed those, too. The entire concept of the world is amazing and I love it.

My main problem is the entire concept of this book – at the end of book one, Agatha chose Sophie over everything else, and now she’s regretting her choice and wishing she had chosen Prince Tedros instead. I hated that. It didn’t fit with Agatha’s character and it was a horrible, forced straight romance angle when if there had to be a romance, a romance between Agatha and Sophie would fit so much better.

And it’s not just because I like gay romances better than straight ones (although I will admit I do). There really is a lot more potential for a romance between Agatha and Sophie than between Agatha and Tedros. Agatha obviously cares for Sophie a lot (protecting/helping Sophie was 99% of her motivation in the first book), and Sophie seems to also care, if not as deeply.  Book one ends with a very emotional, touching moment where Agatha chooses Sophie above everyone else. Even at the beginning of this book, they still care a lot about each other and stick together through everything.

On the other hand, Agatha barely interacted with Tedros at all in the previous book (except for trying to help Sophie catch is interest). She recognized him as handsome, like everyone, but instantly flagged him as unattainable and, to the best of my memory, never even considered liking him romantically. He’s hardly even a major character – he barely got any page time in book one, as the focus was more on Agatha and Sophie. Any feelings Agatha has for him can only be motivated by his status (son of King Arthur) or his dashing good looks, which is incredibly shallow and not something I think Agatha would do.

As my fiance pointed out, the concept of a character making an important choice and then regretting it later on is an interesting one, and I will admit that. It’s unique and interesting. But there’s no reason for Agatha to regret her choice except for Soman trying to force a romance where one won’t work. All through the first book, Agatha chose Sophie. She always chose Sophie over everything, even her own Happily Ever After. A romance growing out of their deep friendship would make perfect sense. Even a plot without a romance at all would be fine. But whatever attraction exists between Agatha and Tedros is based on looks or status, which is shallow and sad. (And honestly I love Agatha and want better than that for her.)

Okay, I’m going to stop now because this review is getting long. But I have a lot of feelings about this book. It could have been great with an Agatha+Sophie romance (or even no romance at all). But what’s actually going on in A World Without Princes … it’s disappointing and out of character.

And who knows, maybe it would have gotten better if I’d continued the book. But it seemed like the entire premise would be Agatha trying to redo her choice between Sophie and Tedros, and I honestly didn’t want to read about that, no matter how much I loved the characters in book one.

tl;dr

Any feelings Agatha had for Tedros were based on his looks and/or his status and (in my opinion) forced by the author. In book one, Agatha always chose Sophie over everything else, and there’s no reason for her to stop that now. If the concept was different and we returned to the School for Good and Evil for different reasons, with Agatha staying in character and continuing to choose Sophie – or at least getting to know Tedros enough that having to choose made sense – I would have loved this book. (And I would have loved it even more if Agatha and Sophie fell in love.) But as it is, I was disappointed and upset that this book wasn’t the sequel I wanted.

Definitely read The School for Good and Evil, it’s totally worth it. And give this one a shot. I admit I can be really picky about certain things, and maybe if you keep going it gets better. It wasn’t necessarily a bad book – it just wasn’t the one that I wanted. Maybe you’ll like it more than I did.

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Romance, Science Fiction

Review: Always Human

Title page for the first chapter of Always Human, featuring a futuristic cityscape in shades of blue

Title: Always Human

Author: Ari

Genre: Science Fiction/Romance

Trigger warnings: Dieting/diet talk

Summary:

This is a story about nanobots, genetic engineering, and two girls falling in love. No matter how technology changes us, we’ll always be human.

Review:

I found this on a list of webcomics on Tumblr, with nothing more about it than “scifi and very gay.” I started reading it because I got bored at work. And then I couldn’t stop.

The short description up there doesn’t tell you a lot about the story. The story is set in a futuristic world where people can live in space, virtual reality is a major thing, and everybody uses “mods” to change their bodies – including appearance, resistance to sickness, and even getting rid of cancer. It starts when Sunati, a recent college graduate and virtual reality engineer meets Austen, a college student with Egan’s Syndrome, an immune disorder that means her body rejects all mods.

And it’s adorable. The romance moves pretty quickly, but even though it’s very romance-oriented, it’s less about the romance and more about the characters.

First, there’s Sunati. She’s a recent college graduate and current virtual reality engineer with dreams of going into space (ideally to Mars), and she tries really, really hard to make everyone around her happy (or at least not be inconvenienced), which I could really relate to. A large part of the story towards the end is her learning that it’s okay to do things for herself sometimes.

Then there’s Austen. She’s in college for genetics – she hopes to cure Egan’s Syndrome so she and other people with the disease can use mods like everybody else – but school is really stressing her out a lot. She also diets (which gets addressed in a very healthy way) and spends a lot of time exercising and studying so she can keep up with people who use mods to help them with those things.

Though both girls have their own individual issues that they deal with, but the bulk of the story is them navigating their relationship, learning to communicate and take the other’s feelings into consideration while still being true to themselves, and building a strong and healthy relationship. It’s emotional and adorable.

It’s also set in an amazing scifi world that I really want to talk about, but also it’s just fun to learn about it as you go. The world itself is beautiful (the art is amazing) and the details – virtual reality games and conversations, lenses like contacts that provide a data interface, the classic visual-displays-hovering-in-front-of-your-face … it’s just great.

And have I mentioned it’s adorable? It’s one of the cutest romances I’ve read in a long time. (And I don’t usually like romance.)

Also, look at this artwork! It’s so cute and happy and gorgeous.

Art of a dark-haired girl and a redheaded girl tearing up with faces close to each other

Art in two boxes - the first box has a blue-haired girl looking into the distance like she's thinking of something happy; the second has a redheaded girl grinning with fuzzy edges like she's the one being thought about

I’m not usually into romance, but this one is great. You can read it online for free here!!!

Fairy Tale

Review: The School for Good and Evil

Cover of "The School for Good and Evil," featuring the title on a banner in front of a crest with a black swan on one side and a white swan on the other, above it are two girls, one with short dark hair and one with long blond hair, standing back-to-back
Image from The School for Good and Evil

Title: The School for Good and Evil

Series: The School for Good and Evil #1

Author: Soman Chainani

Genre: Fairy Tale

Trigger Warnings: Violence, blood, death, fatphobia

Back Cover:

At the School for Good and Evil, failing your fairy tale is not an option.

With her glass slippers and devotion to good deeds, Sophie knows she’ll earn top marks at the School for Good, while Agatha, with her shapeless black frocks and wicked black cat, seems a natural fit for the villains in the School for Evil.

The two girls soon find their fortunes reversed—Sophie’s dumped in the School for Evil, while Agatha finds herself in the School for Good. But what if the mistake is the first clue to discovering who Sophie and Agatha really are?

The School for Good and Evil is an epic journey into a dazzling new world, where the only way out of a fairy tale is to live through one.

Review:

I picked this up because the cover was pretty cool and the concept – a school that trained fairy tale heroes and villains – was pretty darn awesome.

To start with, this book was a lot thicker than I expected. I was expecting a thin little paperback, not a nearly-500-page epic. And I definitely wasn’t expecting all of the twists, turns, betrayals, character growth, and, well, everything.

The book starts by immediately throwing you into a world where every year, the mysterious School Master kidnaps two village kids and every kid is afraid of being taken except Sophie, who is super excited to be taken from the boring village and sent to the School for Good, where she can focus on her beauty and win a handsome prince.

Except it’s pretty obvious from the beginning that Sophie isn’t as good as she thinks she is. Her “good works” are donating face wash to the orphanage, hanging mirrors in public restrooms, and spending time with Agatha, the frumpy, ugly, unfriendly girl who lives in the house in the graveyard (who she doesn’t particularly like, mind you, but sees as a good charity case).

The story is told in alternating perspectives between Sophie and Agatha, so you get to see what Agatha is thinking, too. Agatha actually cares about Sophie – she doesn’t necessarily consider them friends (she’s aware she’s just a charity case), but she cares anyway. A lot of her motivation during the first part of the book is to rescue Sophie from the School of Evil and get her home.

I really want to say more about these girls, but it’s hard because they change and grow so much throughout the book. Part of it is learning why they got put in the schools they did, part of it is leveraging their own unique strengths. (Sophie’s skills and interest in fashion and beauty are never played as a bad thing and are actually shown as a strength.) I don’t want to give away any spoilers, but they change a lot and it’s amazing.

It’s hard to say much about the plot. It starts off with Agatha wanting to keep Sophie from getting kidnapped, but that goes out the window pretty quick and then it’s Sophie wanting to get to the School for Good and Agatha wanting to get them both out of there and back to their village. And that’s the gist of it – but there’s so much more. Class rankings. Surviving things. Extra special magic powers. And I can’t say too much because spoilers.

The school itself is absolutely amazing. You get both Sophie and Agatha’s perspectives, so you get to see both schools, and it’s fantastic. They’re exactly what you would expect from schools for fairy-tale Good and fairy-tale Evil, but it’s all the little details (like the existence of beauty spas in the Good school and a classroom made of ice with a torture chamber beneath it in the Evil school) that makes it absolutely amazing.

I almost said the school was the best part of the book for me, but it’s hard to really say that. All of it was fantastic. Each element blended with the rest of them to create a fascinating world, an enthralling plot, and masterfully-written characters that made me devour the book in one day. (Yes, I read all 500 pages in one day. It was that good.)

There were only two downsides to this book. One was fatphobia, which was mild and mostly stemming from Sophie’s vain perspective. The other was the ending – not that it was bad, but it had the opportunity to be gay and wasn’t.

I don’t have enough positive adjectives to say about this book. I was expecting a fairy tale and I got so much more. So much more. I didn’t know this was a series when I picked this up, but I’m so glad it is because I want more. I want more of these characters and I want more of this world.

I’m trying not to ramble, so just … read the book.

(And if you’re a fan, the School for Good and Evil website is really awesome.)

The School for Good and Evil series:

  1. The School for Good and Evil
  2. A World Without Princes
  3. The Last Ever After
  4. Quests for Glory
Urban Fantasy

Review: Labyrinth Lost

Cover of "Labyrinth Lost," featuring gold text on a dark background above the head (from the nose up) of a brown-haired girl in sugar skull makeup
Image from Zoraida Córdova

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Series: Brooklyn Brujas #1

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Genre: Urban Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Blood

Back Cover:

Nothing says Happy Birthday like summoning the spirits of your dead relatives.

I fall to my knees. Shattered glass, melted candles and the outline of scorched feathers are all that surround me. Every single person who was in my house – my entire family — is gone. 

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she can’t trust. A boy whose intentions are as dark as the strange markings on his skin.

The only way to get her family back is to travel with Nova to Los Lagos, a land in-between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland…

Review:

I put this on my to-read list because there was magic and I’d heard it was gay. That’s about it. I picked it randomly when reserving books at the library, and when my fiance saw it sitting on the dresser I couldn’t even tell him what it was about. That’s how little expectations I had for this book.

The good news is, this is a great book.

It really was. The magic was amazing, Alex was a strong character with good development and growth, the plot seems straightforward but throws some twists in at the end, Los Lagos is an amazing setting (just as dark and twice as strange as you’d expect, but with a definite Wonderland vibe), and the layers of magic are revealed slowly and wonderfully.

It’s just … a beautiful book, really. It’s the kind of story that if you saw it visually, it would be elegant and graceful and eerie, rendered in dark purples and blacks and silvers. The writing and the mood is gorgeous, and it made me want to go out and practice magic and cast some powerful spells.

I only really had two problems:

  1. It’s never really explained why Alex is afraid of her magic. All you get is something about the family cat being possessed, and her magic kills it? And somehow that made her father leave? It’s not clear.
  2. It wasn’t gay. I was told it was, and I kept expecting a romance between Alex and her friend Rishi. (Maybe there will be in the next book, but there wasn’t here.) But on the bright side, there also wasn’t any romance with Angsty Brooding Hero Nova, either.

I feel like breaking it down and analyzing the components of it will ruin the magic. It was just … fascinating and absolutely gorgeous. And it ended on a twist. I’m totally looking forward to the next book (next year …).

The Brooklyn Brujas series:

  1. Labyrinth Lost
  2. Circle Unbroken (April 2018)
Dystopian

Review: The Handmaid’s Tale

Cover of "The Handmaid's Tale," featuring two women in red cloaks and white bonnets standing near a tall brick wall
Image from Margaret Atwood

Title: The Handmaid’s Tale

Author: Margaret Atwood

Genre: Dystopian

Trigger Warnings: Heterosexual sex (consensual and non-consensual), misogyny

Back Cover:

Offred is a Handmaid in the Republic of Gilead. She may leave the home of the Commander and his wife once a day to walk to food markets whose signs are now pictures instead of words because women are no longer allowed to read. She must lie on her back once a month and pray that the Commander makes her pregnant, because in an age of declining births, Offred and the other Handmaids are valued only if their ovaries are viable. Offred can remember the years before, when she lived and made love with her husband, Luke; when she played with and protected her daughter; when she had a job, money of her own, and access to knowledge. But all of that is gone now…

Review:

I’m still not sure what to make of this book.

I picked it up because my fiance and I got Hulu and I wanted to read the book before I watched the show. It took me a while to work through, for no particular reason.

And it was … odd.

There really wasn’t a plot to speak of. Like, seriously. At first I thought it was just slow to start, but nope – I got all the way through it and there still wasn’t really a plot. But it’s okay, because it’s really the world that grabs you. It’s one of those things where you get off the bat it’s an oppressive regime, but it’s slowly revealed how horrifying it is, what life was like before, and how it suddenly changed (although it didn’t make completely clear why it changed).

And the world is horrifying. People of other religions (or varieties of Christianity that are’t the regime’s particular brand), doctors who performed abortions, gay people, and anyone else who doesn’t conform and obey are executed and hung on a wall for everyone to see. There are only a few options for women – if they aren’t wives of regime-approved men, they could be Handmaids if they were fertile, Marthas (who do all the housework) if they weren’t, or Aunts (who indoctrinated the handmaids-in-training)  if they were … I’m not sure what the qualifications for Aunt are. Women aren’t allowed to read or do much of anything – wives are allowed feminine pursuits like gardening and knitting, but not much else, and Handmaids aren’t allowed anything.

The details – and even the main ways society functions – fall into place slowly, bit by bit over the course of the book and even by the end I still felt like there were some things that I wasn’t aware of yet. It was beautifully built, engrossing, and enough for me to keep interested despite the lack of plot.

I grew up in a Christian fundamentalist world. This all made sense to me. I honestly didn’t realize how completely horrifying this would sound to other people until I started explaining it to my fiance, who was appalled that this would make sense to anyone, and extremely disturbed that there were fundamentalists who actually praised this as an ideal society. If you’re not used to religious fundamentalism (such as the Quiverfull variety), it’s going to be a horrifying introduction. If you are, it’s going to be eerily familiar and still horrifying.

Okay, we’ve gotten this far and I’m still not sure what I’m trying to say about this book. (Samantha Field, one of my favorite bloggers, wrote a great post on it that’s more eloquent than this one and I highly recommend it.) This is the kind of book you really have to read for yourself, because there’s no way you can get a sense of it just from a review.

UPDATE: The Hulu Show

I only watched a few episodes of it, because I wasn’t a huge fan. The show tried to include a lot more plot than the book, making Offred mostly interested in finding her daughter (not a huge thing in the book) and bringing in the underground resistance movement in the first episode (which wasn’t until later in the book, and Offred wasn’t all that involved). It also put events in a different order, which bothered me. It wasn’t a bad show and I understand why they made a lot of the choices they did (after all, it’s hard to make a show when there’s not much of a plot), but I think I’d have liked it better if I’d watched it before I read the book.

And as an aside, there were a surprising number of non-white Handmaids. Normally I’m all for diversity in media, but in this case it surprised me because racism is a major thing, especially in American Christian fundamentalism. Having grown up with a very similar breed of fundamentalism, it seemed unrealistic to me that the women of color weren’t all Marthas or exiles to the Colonies, viable ovaries or not.

Did Not Finish, Finance/Money

Review: I Will Teach You To Be Rich

Cover of "I Will Teach You To Be Rich," featuring bold black text on an orange and green background
Image from Ramit Sethi

Title: I Will Teach You To Be Rich: No Guilt, No Excuses, No B.S., Just a 6-Week Program That Works

Author: Ramit Sethi

Genre: Finance/Money

Trigger Warnings: Fatphobia, classism

Back Cover:

You don’t have to be perfect to be rich. Or the smartest person in the room. Or a type-A personality. In fact, with Ramit Sethi’s six-week program to financial independence, you can start with any amount of money, do just 85 percent of what he suggests, and succeed brilliantly through good times and bad.

As irreverent and entertaining as he is practical and wise, Sethi explains how to beat banks and credit cards at the fee game, automate your cash flow, negotiate for a raise, manage student loans, and enjoy your lattes and Manolo Blahniks by practicing conscious spending. It’s how to master your money with the least amount of effort – and then get on with your life.

Read to: Page 117

Review:

Ah, a classic financial book. Full body with the usual advice, and the usual note of fatphobia. The flavor of classism is especially strong in this one, and I’m even detecting a unique note of misogyny, as well as a deep overtone of condescension …

Okay, all jokes aside, this book was bad.

My fiance wanted me to read this and see if it was any good. I didn’t have high hopes for it going in (I’d previously unsubscribed from Ramit’s email list for misogyny and fatphobia), but I was determined to power through.

Of course, there was the requisite fatphobia that comes with personal finance books (bad budgets are fat, good budgets that you’ve put work into are fit and toned). There was also a healthy dose of condescension. Ramit has a tone of “I know more about this than you” and “this is so simple you’re stupid/lazy for not doing this before.” There was also a surprising dose of misogyny – comparing choosing between two investment brokerages to choosing between “two hot blonde twins,” for example.

But still, I was determined to power through. There was actually some good advice on negotiating credit card rates, surprisingly. (That was really the only good information in the book, though – the rest of it was stuff like calling budgets bad and boring and then telling you how to budget while calling it a “conscious spending plan” and claiming it’s completely different. Like, dude, I’ve been budgeting since I was 14. I know a budget when I see one. You’re not special. He even recommends the ENVELOPE BUDGETING SYSTEM, for goodness’ sake.)

I finally gave up – or, more accurately, rage-quit – at page 117. The heading on that page was “What If You Don’t Make Enough Money?” and I was thrilled – finally a financial advice book that takes poverty and minimum wage into account! And then the entire premise was people actually have more wiggle room in their budget than they realize, they just don’t want to change their spending. The two examples I got through before closing the book:

  • Cook at home more. (Ignoring the fact that most minimum-wage workers have to work multiple jobs, leaving them no time to cook, and the fact that it’s actually cheaper to buy pre-packaged stuff and the McDonald’s dollar menu than buy everything fresh and cook it yourself.)
  • Don’t buy the new iPhone every year. (Find me one minimum-wage worker who buys a new phone every year, I dare you. I’m working at nearly twice minimum wage and I still can’t afford a new iPhone every year.)

It was basically the premise that “there’s no such thing as a poor person, there’s only people who are to stupid/bad at handling money to be not poor.” Which is incorrect, classist, and incredibly insulting.

Despite the book’s own view that it’s 100 times better than any other personal finance book, it was an unspectacular, condescending, and classist rephrasing of already-told tips and the same old tropes. It honestly wasn’t worth the 117 pages I gave it.

Contemporary

Review: The Melody of You and Me

Cover of "The Melody of You and Me," featuring white text over a picture of the legs and feet of a girl wearing ripped jeans and black shoes
Image from LGBTQ Reads

Title: The Melody of You and Me

Series: Lillac Town #1

Author: M. Hollis

Genre: Contemporary Romance

Trigger Warnings: Explicit sex (girl on girl)

Back Cover:

After dropping out of university and breaking up with her girlfriend of three years, Chris Morrison’s life is now a mind-numbing mess. She doubts that working at the small neighborhood bookstore is going to change that. The rest of her time is spent mostly playing guitar and ignoring the many messages her mother keeps sending her about going back to college.

But one day, an adorable and charming new bookseller waltzes her way into Chris’s life. Josie Navarro is sweet, flirty, and she always has a new book in her hands. The two girls start a fast friendship that, for Chris, holds the promise of something more. But is she reading too much into this or is it possible that Josie feels the same way?

Review:

I picked this book up for two reasons: It was gay and it was free. And I read it because I had it as a PDF that I could put on my phone and read when I didn’t have a wifi connection.

Overall, I found it pretty unspectacular – but then again, contemporary romance is decidedly not my genre.

You have Chris, a music-loving college dropout who actually seems perfectly happy not going to college and just working at the local bookstore, except she’s getting very annoyed at her mother pushing her to go back to school. Then there’s Josie, a Filipino (or half-Filipino, I can’t remember) ballet dancer new to town who is cute, flirty, and energetic. This novella is so short, there’s not a lot of room for character development, although Chris gets a little.

The plot was short and sweet. Chris is trying to figure out what to do with her life and trying to start/navigate/not mess up a potential romance with Josie. There’s really not a whole lot else.

There was a lot of undeniable romantic – and sexual – tension between Chris and Josie. And there are sex scenes – several of them. Personally, they weirded me out, but I’m not sure if that’s because they were poorly written or because I’m just weird about sex scenes in books. Possibly both. So beware if sex bothers you.

I’m keeping this review short because I don’t honestly have a lot to say. It wasn’t bad, but I wasn’t a huge fan. But then again, that’s likely just me because this is absolutely not my genre. A fan of contemporary romance (or really just romance in general) will probably like this a lot more than I did.

The Lillac Town series:

  1. The Melody of You and Me
  2. The Paths We Choose