Science Fiction

Review: Republic’s Chosen

Cover of "Republic's Chosen," featuring a multicolored feather curled inside a circle
Image from Goodreads

Title: Republic’s Chosen

Series: After the World Ends #1

Author: Rory I

Genre: Military Science Fiction

Trigger Warnings: According to the book: Background and secondary character death, bullying, discrimination (macro and microaggressions), in-combat violence and cruelty, institutional bigotry, mentions of PTSD, mild sexual content, sexual assault, spousal neglect. I add: Blood/gore.

Back Cover:

The world had never seen utopias until the Latin Republic was established. Equality, respect, humane treatment – all of those drive the society’s philosophy after the Great Disaster.

Yet humanity has not learned to leave war behind. When the Republic sends summons to Liana, she knows it’s illegal. Her immigrant status forbids her from fighting in the army, but the country’s leaders want control over her and they won’t stop at anything to get it.

Under the pressure of a tough training regime, threatened by a complicated political plot she must quickly untangle, it is no surprise Liana’s marriage begins to crumble. Tossed in a training campus and immediately involved in its intrigue, Liana needs allies quickly, but all she wants to do is crush the system which holds her hostage. With each passing day, it’s becoming harder to reconcile the need to hide her real identity and the desire to protect her immigrant countryfolk from harm.

An old friend returns to her life just in time to give her the leverage she needs. There is no chance she’s ever coming back to her peaceful life in hiding.

A strong bisexual lead, a secret identity, Special Forces soldiers, true friendship, and a headstrong trauma survivor trying to accept her role in saving the world.

Review:

I was really excited to read this book. I got a free ebook copy through the Sapphic Book Club, so it promised to be pretty gay, and the description sounded right up my alley. (The description I read also included something about Liana being former special forces and totally showing up everyone else in the army, which is a trope I love, but I can’t for the life of me find the description I read.)

Overall, Republic’s Chosen was good, but disappointing.

I liked Liana, to a point. She was skilled way above the basic training camp she was sent to, which I really enjoyed. She was also insubordinate and a troublemaker, which sometimes I enjoyed and sometimes seemed just too much. Mostly she was just stifled by the strict rules of the military – which I understand, but I didn’t like. (Also I don’t recall it mentioned anywhere on-page that she’s bi.)

Liana’s husband Marcus was most definitely not my favorite character. At the beginning, I thought he was a kind of a dick. By the time I got to the end, I wouldn’t necessarily call him a dick, but he definitely rubbed me the wrong way. I just couldn’t put my finger on why.

A lot of the minor/less major characters were really good, though. Most of them were queer (and it’s a common practice in this world to state your pronouns when you introduce yourself), and they all had little things that defined them, even though they often didn’t get a lot of page time.

I feel like the world could have been good if there’d been more of it. You don’t get a whole lot about this world, other than there is a big conflict between the Latin Republic (which I think encompassed the Americas?) and the Slavic … countries? I don’t know, that wasn’t very clear. And you get little details about things in the Latin Republic (unimportant stuff, like the women wear eye makeup under the eyes instead of on the lids) from Liana’s perspective, but you don’t get anything about how it came to be the Latin Republic, what the Great Disaster was, or even what the society’s philosophy is. The book was stuck on the military base, and that made it difficult to explore the world.

This book was just far too military for me. It was too focused on the training camp and the military exercises and the recruits and the rules and the hierarchy. I’m not a fan of the military industrial complex, and I expected there to be less obedience and submission to the military’s rules and regulations than there was. The structure and hierarchy felt like it was suffocating the story (which I suppose was intentional, since it was restricting to Liana, too).

I also didn’t like the married couple aspect of it. I don’t know why, and it’s completely a personal preference, but the conflict in Liana’s marriage in addition to everything else just didn’t fit for me. It felt like it added just another layer of complicated on a book that already had too much going on.

This was a long book – 400+ pages. And even with all that page time, it felt like there was too much happening. Liana and Marcus had conflicts with almost everyone, it seemed, as well as with the military structure in general. Then there was their marriage under strain from the being in the military thing. And everywhere they turn running up against restricting military regulations. And did I mention conflicts with almost everyone, including friends from their special forces days?

Okay, this review is a little disjointed and I’m trying to say a lot in a small space. I’m not completely sure what I’m trying to say, though. I did not like this book, but I can’t put my finger on exactly why. Military scifi is definitely not my thing, but there was just too much going on and I didn’t like the characters enough to actually enjoy this. If you like military scifi, though, you’ll probably enjoy this much more.

The After the World Ends series:

  1. Republic’s Chosen
  2. Blacklight (After the World Ends 1.5)
  3. Republic’s Reach (not yet released)

 

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Suspense/Thriller

Review: Salem’s Lot

Cover of "Salem's Lot," showing the head and neck of a feminine person whose skin is nearly white; their head is tilted back and there are two bleeding puncture wounds in their neck.
Image from Stephen King

Title: Salem’s Lot

Author: Stephen King

Genre: Horror

Trigger Warnings: Death, blood, gore, child abuse, spousal abuse, rape mention

Back Cover:

Stephen King’s second novel, Salem’s Lot, Is the story of a mundane town under siege from the forces of darkness. Considered one of the most terrifying vampire novels ever written, it cunningly probes the shadows of the human heart–and the insular evils of small-town America.

Review:

Now, before you go, “horror? Jalyn doesn’t read horror” – I know. This isn’t the kind of thing I would normally pick up. But my fiance is a HUGE Stephen King fan and he’s been pestering me for ages to read something by him. Eventually, I ran out of library books and agreed to give it a try.

(This was back in late November, mind you – my fiance’s mass market paperback copy is 631 pages and I just now finished it.)

This book has the biggest ensemble cast I think I’ve ever read, so I’m not going to talk about every character. It spends some time with pretty much everyone in Salem’s Lot. But the character who gets the most page time is Ben Mears, a moderately successful writer who grew up in Salem’s Lot and returned to work on his newest book. He also hopes to be able to process his feelings about the decidedly creepy Marsten House and the trauma of, as a child, being the one to find the body of Hubert Marsten in the house.

The rest of the characters mostly rely on stereotypes for you to get to “know” them – like the town gossip or that one guy who everyone thinks is weird but he doesn’t mind doing that job no one wants so they put up with him. But somehow King manages to make that stereotyping feel artful, so I didn’t mind it at all.

The first half of the book goes really slowly. It spends a lot of time building atmosphere – it’s a small town, with all its small town positives and negatives (which will be quickly recognized by anyone who’s lived in a small town), but there’s also something eerie and possibly a little evil living there, and it’s centered on the Marsten House. It also spends a lot of time on characters, especially Ben and how everyone in the town reacts to him. If you’re the kind of person who doesn’t like in-depth character studies or would rather sacrifice atmosphere for action, you will hate this. And honestly, I liked it and it still took me two months to get through it.

I feel like anything I say about the second half will be a spoiler, because the book spends so much time setting up the mysteries and vague uneasiness that gets revealed in the second half. That’s where the vague uneasiness grows and becomes the full-blown horror. I also think it dragged a little towards the end – the last hundred pages were a slog for me. They weren’t bad, I just wanted to find out the ending and wanted King to dispense with the lengthy descriptions and get on with the story.

To be honest, I didn’t find it that horror-y. But I think a large part of it was that I was reading it in bright light, sitting on the couch next to my fiance while he played video games, and kept getting distracted by the game and interrupted by my fiance’s occasional comments. I’m sure if I’d read it alone at night (or even in an environment where I wasn’t interrupted frequently), it would have been much scarier.

I will say one thing – Stephen King can write. Not that I was surprised, since he’s such a hugely bestselling author, but it was good. Lengthy and lyrical, but he has a remarkable knack for descriptions and I didn’t even mind how lengthy they were. It just added atmosphere. Whether or not you like his subject matter, he’s certainly a master of writing. (And this is only his second novel, I’m sure his later ones are even better.)

Okay, this is already pretty long, so I’m going to finish up with this: Salem’s Lot really wasn’t my kind of book, and I highly doubt I’ll read another Stephen King. But King is an excellent writer, and even though I wasn’t particularly invested in the story, he made me need to know how it ended. It’s not good in the sense that I liked it (I’m still not sure if I did or not), but it’s definitely good in the sense that it is a solid, well-written book.

Superhero

Review: Hero

Cover of "Hero," featuring a white male pulling open a white button-down shirt to reveal a tee shirt with the word "Hero" written on it.
Image from Lezbrarian

Title: Hero

Author: Perry Moore

Genre: Superhero

Trigger Warnings: Violence/blood, death, homophobia

Back Cover:

The last thing in the world Thom Creed wants is to add to his father’s pain, so he keeps secrets. Like that he has special powers. And that he’s been asked to join the League – the very organization of superheroes that spurned his dad. But the most painful secret of all is one Thom can barely face himself: he’s gay.

But becoming a member of the League opens up a new world to Thom. There, he connects with a misfit group of aspiring heroes, including Scarlett, who can control fire but not her anger; Typhoid Larry, who can make anyone sick with his touch; and Ruth, a wise old broad who can see the future. Like Thom, these heroes have things to hide; but they will have to learn to trust one another when they uncover a deadly conspiracy within the League.

To survive, Thom will face challenges he never imagined. To find happiness, he’ll have to come to terms with his father’s past and discover the kind of hero he really wants to be.

Review:

Part of me wanted my last review of 2017 to be more momentous than this, but this happened to be the book I took with me while I waited for my car to get repaired. So it is what it is, I guess. And Hero isn’t a bad book, really.

I don’t know what to say about Thom. He’s one of those characters that’s hard to review – he was a good, solid character who I related to and who developed throughout the course of the story. But at the same time, he was kind of unremarkable. Don’t get me wrong, he didn’t feel like that while reading, but now I’m trying to write about him and I’m drawing a blank.

(Also, he’s very awkward and does quite a bit of putting his foot in his mouth. It made him seem real, but if you suffer from secondhand embarrassment like I do, there are parts where you’ll just want to crawl in a hole.)

I also liked that there were disabled characters in this book – namely Thom and his dad (Thom has some sort of seizure disorder and his dad’s hand is crippled). It’s not something you see a lot and I liked the diversity.

The other characters were all great. They had interesting backstories, quirks, and flaws. Ruth was a fascinating lady and pushed Thom to be a better person. Scarlett started off as the I-hate-you-but-we-have-to-work-together trope but became a friend by the end. Larry … okay, Larry was minor. But you also get backstories and character journeys of Thom’s parents (well, at least his dad), which I thought was neat that the book managed to do that while still focusing on Thom.

That whole “deadly conspiracy within the League” thing? That doesn’t really come up until the climax. Well, there’s a little bit of “the League thinks this villain did this crime but Thom knows he didn’t so they’re looking for the actual culprit,” but that really takes a backseat to the characters. The story is really about Thom dealing with homophobia and the growth and dynamics of him and his team of aspiring superheroes. Sure, there was some action, but it was more emotional than anything.

The only thing I really had a problem with was the romance. I saw it coming (not a bad thing), but the love interest didn’t get a lot of page time. On one hand, I understand why and it would have been hard to work more scenes in with him, but on the other, it felt a little like it came out of the blue considering how little interaction Thom had with him before the end.

Overall, this was a good book. Not spectacular, but definitely better than “meh.” It has its flaws, and for a superhero book it’s more focused on character dynamics and the emotional aspect, but I enjoyed it. It was a solidly good book.

Next week I’ll be doing my 2017 in Books post, where I round up my top reads of 2017, plus a few more I’m excited for in 2018. Stay tuned!

Science Fantasy

Webcomic Spotlight: Lady of the Shard

Cover of "Lady of the Shard," featuring white text on a black background with white dots of varying sizes that look like stars in the night sky.

Title: Lady of the Shard

Author: Gigi D.G.

Genre: Science Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Manipulation in mildly sexual situations, mind control, mild body horror

Summary:

Lady of the Shard is a comic about an acolyte in love with the goddess she serves.

Review:

“Lady of the Shard” is short, but a whole lot happens! It starts off with a cute, overeager acolyte falling in love with the goddess she serves, and trying to deal with her complicated feelings about it. Things change when a monster (that’s actually not a monster) shows up … and that’s all that I can really say without spoilers, but there are several twists.

Also, the art is really cool and different – it’s very sketch-like, and white on a black (or occasionally pink) background.

Panel from "Lady of the Shard," with white lines on a black background. Two figures in hoods and long cloaks are next to a third, feminine figure; one holds a pillow and the other holds a bowl of food. The person in the middle looks surprised by the kindness. All three figures are drawn in pixelated lines.
And in my opinion, it looks really cool.

And did I mention this all takes place in space? The goddess saved humanity after the earth was destroyed, and so all the people living near the various stars bring tribute to her temple, which is a giant star-shaped thing floating in space. Despite that, though, it has a definite fantasy feeling.

“Lady of the Shard” is a great story with more action than you’d expect, an amazing antagonist, and a completely adorable protagonist. It’s a quick read, and in my opinion, totally worth it.

You can read it online for free here! (May not work well with mobile devices.)

Fantasy

Review: Eelgrass

Cover of "Eelgrass," featuring a thin white girl in a white dress with the wind blowing her hair and dress. There is water that looks like the ocean in the background.
Image from Tori Curtis

Title: Eelgrass

Author: Tori Curtis

Genre: Fantasy

Trigger Warnings: Kidnapping, forced marriage

Back Cover:

In Irish folklore, a selkie is a seal who can take off her sealskin like a coat and become a woman, seducing fishermen anywhere she goes. If he steals her sealskin, she is bound to his home, marrying him and mothering his children – unless she can find it and escape, leaving her family on shore forever.

In this lesbian reimagining of tales about women and the sea, Efa is having too much fun to worry about stories. Too young to have earned respect in her village, she spends her days roving with her beautiful and vivacious best friend, Bettan — until the night Bettan disappears into a rainstorm, and Efa can’t shake the certainty that she’s been taken.

Desperate to rescue her friend, Efa seeks out the fishwives, half-human fish who dwell under the tides and kill sailors with their sharp teeth and alluring songs. She doesn’t expect to find Ninka, an outrageous young woman who makes her feel giddy and who might be the key to unlocking her own courage.

Review:

I wasn’t honestly super excited about this book, but I got a free ebook copy through the Sapphic Book Club and had it on my phone so I could read it in waiting rooms and stuff. And overall, I was underwhelmed.

Let’s start with one of the two major positives in the book: Efa. She wasn’t one of the kick-ass leader-type characters that I usually like to read about, but I liked her because I related to her. Like her, I’m usually the quiet sidekick to a more energetic, boisterous, sociable friend; like her, I get overwhelmed and my emotions get mixed up when I need to do something important but don’t know how to go about it. She was one of the most relatable characters I’ve read in a while, to be honest.

Now, probably the biggest negative in the book: the romance. It fell flat for me. Part of this is because Ninka doesn’t have a lot of personality. It’s heavily emphasized that she does what she wants when she wants … and that’s about it. Which was disappointing, because I think with some development she could have been an awesome character.

Another reason the romance fell flat was there wasn’t a lot of feeling about it from Efa. I understand most of her emotional bandwidth was taken up by worry about Bettan, but there was next to nothing about romantic feelings towards Ninka. And the romance-hinting moments were few and far between (and they mostly consisted of Ninka kissing Efa and that’s it). So any time the romance angle came up it fell flat. Which was really disappointing, because this sort of opposites-attract romance between a fiercely independent fishwife and a restrained selkie homebody could have been amazing.

Which brings me to the other major positive thing in the book: the mythology. I’ve never read (or honestly heard of) a book about selkies before, and the fishwives were a cool take on siren/mermaid myths. I loved the idea of there being selkie villages that lived near human towns and selkies and humans interacted normally, and I liked how tight-knit the selkie community was and how it adapted to the people being sometimes seal and sometimes human. I wish you learned more of the community aspect with the fishwives.

The biggest problem with this book was that it needed more. It was too short. There wasn’t enough time to develop Efa’s feelings for Ninka, there wasn’t enough time to develop Ninka as a character or the fishwives as a species and a community – even though Efa spends about a month in the deep sea with Ninka, it’s glossed over in a handful of pages and not used to develop their relationship. The plot of rescuing Bettan was done really well, but the book wasn’t nearly long enough to cover the other subplots it tried to include.

Eelgrass was disappointing. I wanted to like it. I loved the concept. There just wasn’t enough of it to be as great as it could have been.

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!

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!!!