Mini Reviews: Books With Aro and/or Ace Characters

Wishing you a Happy New Year full of love, light and laughter!

Thanks to making more friends in the ace and aro communities on Twitter, I’ve gotten the chance to read books representing these identities. They’re usually ownvoices and SFF and indie/self-published, which has also been a great way to diversify my reading from just traditional publishing. It’s so cool that there’s authors out there not waiting around for traditional publishing to catch up, otherwise we’ll be waiting a lot longer for representation. I thought I’d do quick reviews of three books I read and loved recently.

34337959 No More Heroes by Michelle Kan: There are Vigilantes with special Abilities all over the world who patrol the streets at night to keep the peace. However, a series of Vigilante deaths ensue- the identity and the motive of the person responsible for these deaths are unknown. Three young Vigilantes have no idea what they’re getting into when they get involved, and team up with a bunch of older Vigilantes to solve the mystery.

This is a fast-paced urban fantasy that features a diverse cast of characters and high stakes adventure time. I thoroughly enjoyed the pacing, the mystery, the action sequences and the Abilities were really cool. I could almost visualize it all. I loved that the author focused on friendships and fostering teamwork among these characters, a lot of whom were essentially just introduced and getting to know one another. It also features Fang, a genderfluid aroace character, which is a huge bonus. The only thing I’d have liked more was character development. There were a lot of characters and we really didn’t get any background on anyone but Fang. However, the author has been mentioning a sequel, and the book seems to be set up that way, so I’m hoping we get to know them more then. 

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The Trouble by Daria Defore: Danny Kim, lead of a Seattle indie rock band called The Trouble, embarrasses himself by rudely hitting on a cute guy Jiyoon, who attends one of his band’s shows, only to find out that the guy is the TA of his Accounting class. However, events occur and soon a friendship is formed between Danny and Jiyoon. 

I always lean towards realistic fiction over fantasy, and was delighted to find a contemporary fiction book featuring an aro character. The author did a really good job establishing and developing Danny and Jiyoon’s relationship, and how Danny navigates it as an allosexual aromantic person. This is not a “romance is a cure” storyline at all. Danny is firmly aro-spec, and there’s great scenes discussing what that means, both their expectations from their relationship, and establishing boundaries. I also loved that Danny is extremely close to his bandmates, and that relationship status doesn’t change regardless of whatever is happening with Jiyoon, which I especially appreciated. If you’re looking for aromantic rep in contemporary fiction, you should definitely pick up this one.

34031351The Traitor’s Tunnel by C. M. Spivey: This novella features a brother-sister duo in the city of Arido who are estranged- Bridget is a robber, and Theodore is the apprentice of a well-renowned city engineer, on his way to his dream job as the Lord Engineer of Arido. The two of them cross paths accidentally, and must reunite to stop a traitor and save their city and the empire.

I received an advance copy of this novella in exchange for an honest review.

Although the events in this book occur several years before the ones in FROM UNDER THE MOUNTAIN (which I haven’t read), it works great as a standalone. I had no issues following the plot or the worldbuilding. Two specific things I loved about this were: 1. the main characters are siblings, not romantic partners (or to-be romantic partners), playing to a great family dynamic, as well as alternating POVs. 2. Theodore is an established panromantic asexual character. His relationship with Leander is explored and fleshed out not only from his perspective, but from Bridget’s as well. Bridget’s own relationship with Keaton isn’t super defined, which fits in naturally with her personality. The world-building is solid and I had no trouble following it at all, it’s such a well-structured plot. All in all, I thoroughly enjoyed myself. I’m definitely picking up From Under The Mountain soon. 

P. S. If you don’t already follow Claudie Arseneault on twitter, you really should. She’s created a great database for SFF books featuring ace and/or aro characters, and is always happy to chat about them on twitter as well. 

-J

ARC Review: The Queen of Dauphine Street (NOLA Nights #2) by Thea de Salle

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The Queen of Dauphine Street (NOLA Nights #2)

Pub. date: May 15th, 2017
Publisher: Pocket Star
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781501156090
Source: Netgalley

Thanks so much to Netgalley and Pocket Star for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

Plot: Madeline Roussoux screams extravagance: she’s got money, houses, a private jet, a cruise ship, and a pet tiger; not to mention she’s gorgeous and hella sexy. Everyone in the social scene knows who she is. None of this takes away from the fact that she’s got some demons to deal with- growing up a lonely child in a noveau riche family, watching her father commit suicide and her mother subsequently having breakdowns, drugs, rehabs, failed marriages- and is wrecked on the inside. Darren Sanders is a stunning looking man, oozing Texan charm and a giant heart. While trying to get away from his stalker ex-girlfriend, he meets Maddy in New Orleans through a mutual friend, who offers to take him on her boat when there’s an attempt made on his life. 

Trigger warnings: Stalking, attempted murder, PTSD

Thea de Salle has given us another hella entertaining and hella sexy book, balanced with a story centering trauma survivors. The PTSD content is not in a savior complex way, in that nobody is getting cured of their traumatic experiences by virtue of being in a romantic relationship. Instead, Maddy is able to harness her experiences and coping mechanisms to help Darren out when he is struggling. I love that the author took the time to detail what Darren’s panic attack looks like and include a conversation about it after. Of course, it’s never the same for everybody, but the book doesn’t shy away from the fact that the characters are trauma survivors. The story isn’t morbid, and offers hope to readers in the end. 

Maddy and Darren are just so wonderfully fleshed out in this book.We were introduced to Maddy in the first book in the series, and she’s such a vivacious, flirty, fun, and kind person. She’s well-versed in kink as a Dom, and absolutely owns her sexiness and sexuality. I love a woman who knows what she likes and how she likes it and has no qualms about owning it. She’s also super aware of her privilege and how people perceive her, but that doesn’t stop her from living her life. She has a friggin’ tiger for a pet, for crying out loud. It’s hard not to love her. And then there’s Darren. Oh my god, Darren with the dad jokes. I AM DEAD. Ugh I’m such a sucker for dad jokes you guys, and even though I didn’t ship these two in the beginning of the book the dad jokes pushed me over the edge. They’re hard to resist. Oof. He’s just…such a dork. I love it.

It was also great to see some of my favorite characters from book one make an appearance in this one. Sol and Rain (my loves), Vaughn, Alex, Cylan (still mercilessly teased by Sol all day everyday), and Tempy (she’s just so badass I want her book  so much). Sol and Rain are still so in love, and I also love that Darren and Maddy are so appreciative of that couple in their own way. 

This book is a great mix of adorable and goofy and sexy, and such a great sequel to the first. I love all of these characters from this series so much and I would love for each of them to have their book. The next book in the series is going to be Alex DuMont’s, and he’s such a curmudgeonly bastard it’s going to be such a delight to see pages and pages of that, it is going to be a testament to my patience.

-J

 

 

Review: The King of Bourbon Street (NOLA Nights #1) by Thea de Salle

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The King of Bourbon Street (NOLA Nights #1)

Pub. date: Feb 13th, 2017
Publisher: Pocket Star
Format: Ebook
ISBN: 9781501156076
Source: Owned

 

 

Plot: Sol DuMont is a recently divorced, gorgeous, hotel chain owner, whose interest in partying and drugs and booze and sex is at an all time low. Arianna “Rain” Barrington is a wealthy heiress who is vacationing in New Orleans with her brother to escape her godawful mother and her incessant matchmaking. Rain and her brother Vaughn are of course, staying at The Seaside, Sol’s hotel. When Sol and Rain encounter each other, there are sparks, and a whirlwind romance ensues.

HOT. DAMN.

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Okay, okay, I’m getting way ahead of myself. First of all, this is the FIRST fat-positive romance I’ve ever read. I know the cover is deceiving (the author went over this in detail on Twitter a while ago; publishing needs to evolve), but Rain is fat. The word “fat” is used to describe her, more than once, and not in a derogatory manner at all. No fetishizing or negativity, which is amazing, especially since a lot of the descriptions are from Sol’s POV. This is a D/s relationship, and Sol looks at her a lot as a Dom, but all of his trains of thoughts about her are nothing but positive throughout the book. It’s great. Sol himself is a fucking delight- his banter with his best friend Cylan, especially all the one-sided flirting and the general snark, had me in splits. It’s hilarious. He’s bi and has no qualms about it. It was also great to read the book from the Dom’s POV during play, which again, I haven’t read a lot. Rain’s the less experienced of the two, but all the play is super consensual- there’s pain play, orgasm control, objectification- and the kink is ridiculously hot.

Outside of the kinky stuff, I really did love both characters. Rain is a ray of sunshine, wicked smart, adorable, and extremely kind. Sol is all snark and flirty and protective, but not the slightest bit overbearing. Their relationship is very well fleshed out, as are all the side characters. What I liked most is that the book avoids the trope of the partners having some sort of blow out that results in a separation and then another incident causes them to get back together. I’ve read it a lot in several other romances (that I’ve enjoyed) but it was a breath of fresh air not to have that story arc for once. I also love that there’s multiple queer characters in the book, and not in a sensationalized manner, so there’s no token representation going on.

This book is entertaining and endearing and laugh-out-loud funny, so if you’re a romance/kink fan, you should definitely pick this up. If you’re not an avid romance reader this is still a great book to try out the genre. It’s very well-written, and just a damn delight.

-J

Review: Thorn by Intisar Khanani

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Thorn by Intisar Khanani

Pub. date: January 2014
Publisher: Intisar Khanani
Format: Ebook
Author’s website: http://booksbyintisar.com/

 

 

Princess Alyrra does not see the appeal of being royalty. Deprived of the luxury of making choices, with no power to stand up against her cruel brother, calculating mother, and a contemptuous court, she has spent her life avoiding the spotlight. THen she is forced to marry someone she doesn’t even know (for political reasons), and is being shipped off to a foreign land with very little hope that things are going to get better for her. On her journey there though, her party is attacked, and a magical spell switches her identity with another woman. Once she reaches her destination, she is assigned the lowly station of a goose girl, and for the first time in her life, has the freedom to make her own choices: either fight for her rightful identity and subsequent future with this prince she’s never met, or start off fresh in this new life, as Thorn. However, she becomes increasingly aware that there are some dark forces in play in this new kingdom, and becomes acquainted with the prince, and the choice she needs to make is tied to some serious consequences. 

Here’s the first reason I loved this book, it’s a retelling of The Goose Girl by the Grimm’s Brothers. I love retellings, particularly fairy tale retellings. There’s so much beauty in playing around with them, especially since a lot of them are written by white dudes, and let’s face it, could use some color. 

The second reason I loved this book, and why I also love retellings, is that it is an opportunity to flesh the characters out and give them more dimension. Which is exactly what Intisar does. Alyrra doesn’t just carry out her duties as the goose girl, but she becomes involved in the lives of the other servants she has to live with. Intisar does a phenomenal job describing the political and social unrest, using many scenes to depict issues of classism, how people who didn’t grow up in palaces had so many other odds to contend with. There is a scene where one of her new friends is assaulted, and despite her friendship with the prince and seeking his help, Alyrra is unable to get help from them. Meanwhile, the locals dealt with the attackers by implementing their own form of justice, because they had no expectations that the law would care for those that were underprivileged. The power dynamics and imbalance between Alyrra/Thorn and the prince are also explored in multiple scenes and interactions between them.

Another relationship that gave me both joy and crushed me was Thorn’s relationship with Falada, a strong-willed talking horse (though nobody other than Thorn knows about the talking part). Another character that was just a caricature in the original, Initisar portrays Falada as a loyal companion and dispenser of sagely advice, and the bond between the two of them is strong.

As for the writing itself, the prose is beautiful, even though world building is slow and took me a little while to comprehend. It all flows together. The magical and sorcery aspect isn’t something that leaps out of the page as bizarre, because it is woven into the world and belongs there. Alyrra’s character is a beautiful example of nature vs. nurture, of a victim that ultimately saves herself, as a result of her very best qualities which are the ones that were developed and not inherited.

Here’s my third and probably most favorite thing, the relationship between Alyrra/Thorn and Prince Kestrin. You can watch it develop through their interactions. It’s pretty obvious that he knows she’s the princess, even though he hasn’t quite worked out how her identity was switched. Given all that has happened, it is only natural that Alyrra/Thorn is extremely wary of the prince and basically everyone in the court, which is why she is extremely reluctant to accept help from him, and he doesn’t push her. There’s various points in the story where we get to see Kestrin’s POV, where instead of trying to save her, he tries to guide her to save herself. This relationship between two strangers isn’t one of immediate romance, but one that is a combination of mutual understanding and slowly developing trust. Even in the end, it’s not all neatly tied up, as evidenced by these lines:

“I take a step forward, so that I am barely a handspan away from him, and rest my other hand on his chest, feeling the rise and fall of each breath. “I have no doubt of it,” I say, because I cannot yet tell him I love him, because we need more time without games and deceit between us to find such love.”

This book left my heart singing, so I’m immensely grateful to both Jenny and Memory for recommending it to me. Thank you, friends. I’m of course now an absolute fan of Intisar Khanani and will of course be devouring everything she’s ever written in the near future. 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

ARC Review: Lucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

wp-1479113487650.jpgLucky Boy by Shanthi Sekaran

Pub. date: January 10th, 2017
Publisher: G.P. Putnam’s Sons
Format: E-galley
ISBN: 9781101982242
Source: Netgalley

 

Thanks so much to G. P. Putnam’s Sons and Netgalley for providing me this ARC in exchange for an honest review. 

 

Eighteen-year old Solimar Valdez undertakes an arduous journey to cross the US/Mexican border, during which she meets and falls in love with a young man. Weeks later, separated from due to a series of events, she arrives in Berkeley, California at her cousin’s house, impregnated and in love, both of which were not part of her plan. However, her cousin gets her a job, and teaches her to keep a low profile so as not to have her legality questioned, and she does just that. She gives birth to a lovely baby boy Ignacio, who becomes Soli’s most precious possession, one she guards with her life. Until one day, the unluckiest set of circumstances result in Soli taken to a detention center, separated from Ignacio. 

Kavya Reddy has a stable job, a stable marriage, and a complicated relationship with her mother. She’s looking for more in the fulfillment and happiness department, and is unexpectedly overwhelmed with a desire to become a mother. It becomes her sole focus. She and Rishi struggle with trying to get pregnant, and their marriage goes through the hoops of trying and failing IVF and such. The couple look into adoption, and this is where their lives collide with Soli’s- they end up fostering Ignacio. Kavya takes on the role of mother willingly, although it doesn’t come without its tribulations, and falls in love with this child that is not her own. 

There’s several beautiful things about this book. The writing, for starters, is gorgeous. It’ll capture you from the first few pages, the author using it to weave such an emotional story. Sekaran has also done such an excellent job of portraying two strong women, women who in their own rights care so deeply for this child, and will stop at nothing to try and keep him with them. A comparison of their determination and experiences is futile. This is not a story that has a clear winner at the end; but it portrays so many emotions vividly that it leaves you raw and aching.

The book also tackles the reality of the circumstances of undocumented people and immigrants. The sections of the book tackling the legal and judicial systems, the horrific realities of people thrown into detention centers and the terrible choices they are given, made me feel angry and helpless, all at the same time. As someone that has grown up with a lot of chatter of the American dream, the true nature of what that looks like left me disillusioned. Especially in the current political climate, it was very hard not to experience real fear and anxiety when reading Soli’s story. 

I can’t say that I wanted the book to end differently. I devoured this book in a couple of days, but I was unable to pick sides. Not that picking sides makes any damn difference in the world, because the entire situation is beyond fucked up and there’s no alternatives for a satisfactory of comforting conclusion. My guts were wrenched, and my heart was torn. I can’t recommend this enough. 

Review: Shrill by Lindy West

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Shrill: Notes From A Loud Woman

Published: May 17th, 2016
Publisher: Hachette
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9780316348409
Source: Owned
Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books, Read The Books You Buy

 

This is probably one of the most relevant and important books of the year. I got to see Lindy speak at the Printer’s Row Lit Fest a few weeks before I read the book, and I had heard about it so much but did no research before going to see her speak. She’s funny, she’s unapologetic, she’s honest. This memoir is a compilation of essays in which Lindy discusses and breaks down this prevailing culture of fat-shaming, internet-trolling, harassment, and good old-fashioned sexism. The titles of the essay had me snort-laughing, its content did not. Lindy gets real and gives no fucks. She talks about growing up as a fat girl, having to make herself smaller, tinier, quieter- because that’s such an ingrained ideal trait across cultures for women, and I related so much with that. It’s that terrible intersection of being a woman and being fat. There’s just no winning, because people would rather die than be some obscenely fat and uglyThey also think you should die because you are a smear on everything our society is working towards- to be thin is to be beautiful

Continue reading “Review: Shrill by Lindy West”

Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Or…how I devoured 200 pages of a book in a day so that I could gush about it at book club the next day.

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Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi

Published: June 7th, 2016
Publisher: Knopf
Format: Hardcover
ISBN: 9781101947135
Source: Owned
Challenges: Read My Own Damn Books, Read The Books You Buy

 

Continue reading “Review: Homegoing by Yaa Gyasi”