Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (5/31/22) – Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (Unstoppable, #2)

Hi again, bibliophiles!

I liked the first book in Charlie Jane Anders’ Unstoppable trilogy, Victories Greater Than Death, so when I saw book 2 at the bookstore the other day, I figured I’d give it a shot. I ended up giving it the same rating as book 1, but for different reasons; it felt like a middle book, but that wasn’t always a bad thing.

Now, tread lightly! This review may contain spoilers for book 1, Victories Greater Than Death. If you have not read it and intend to, proceed with caution!

For my review of Victories Greater Than Death, click here!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak (Unstoppable, #2) – Charlie Jane Anders

Tina and her band of unlikely heroes have saved the universe—for now. But what comes next?

Tina has begun her studies at the Royal Space Academy, but every day, she’s still haunted by her transformation. As she begins to lose her former self, she questions whether or not her duty is worth it. Elza, already feeling distanced from Tina, enters a competition to become a princess, but is faced with the ghosts of the past in the famed Palace of Scented Tears. And Rachael, the quiet artist of the group, is struggling with the loss of her artistic abilities after a run-in with a strange artifact. All the while, the threat of the xenophobic Compassion is on the rise, and if it’s to be stopped, the three friends must reunite amidst their personal struggles.

TW/CW: sci-fi violence, murder, xenophobia, anxiety, descriptions of injury

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak had the unmistakable feel of a middle book. However, that doesn’t mean that I didn’t enjoy it.

Despite some of its shortcomings, Charlie Jane Anders’ brand of space opera is a breath of fresh air in the world of YA science fiction. The worlds she creates are multilayered, complex, and immersive, and all of the aliens in them are equally creative. For sci-fi fans looking for a series that’s endlessly creative, look no further. What makes it even better is the vast range of diversity present—just to name a few, we have a queer protagonist, a Black, Brazilian, queer protagonist, and a plus-sized protagonist with anxiety as the stars of Dreams. There’s queer rep aplenty in Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak, and there’s something for everybody—it’d be hard to find some facet of yourself represented in some way in these books.

That being said, there were certain aspects of Dreams that I wasn’t as big of a fan of. Anders’ writing was what stuck out to me in this book in particular. There’s not much dressing on her prose; that isn’t always a bad thing, but it felt very bare-bones to me—lots of “[they] felt,” “[they] knew,” “[they] saw,” etc. I forget if this was as exacerbated in book 1, but this was what took away from my enjoyment the most in Dreams. At times, it almost had the effect of being talked down to—not an ideal writing style.

Additionally, I feel like the plot and pacing weren’t as strong as book 1’s were. While Victories moved at an almost dizzyingly breakneck pace, Dreams was comfortable to slow to a crawl, which was necessary for the character-building, but did little to move the plot forward. The plot itself was also lacking—it explored the paths of Tina, the protagonist of Victories, as well as Elza and Rachael. All of their POVs were interesting in concept, but Rachael’s tended to drag along. Although I love all of the characters that Anders created, it would’ve benefited the book so much more to just be from Tina’s POV; her plot was the most compelling of the three, and yet, it’s the one that the least time was allotted to. Once the three were reunited towards the end, it picked up, but before the last third of the book or so, it bordered on being a slog—I’m so surprised I’m saying that, given how overwhelmingly fast-paced Victories was!

However, as in Victories, the themes were as strong and timely as ever. Togetherness, acceptance, and fighting xenophobia and prejudice are at the heart of this story, and with such a diverse and lovable cast, these themes shone brighter than ever. It’s just the kind of sci-fi story we need right now, and I’m excited to see how it ends next year!

All in all, a victim of second-book-syndrome that made up for some of its flaws with its timely themes and loving and accepting energy. 3.5 stars!

Dreams Bigger Than Heartbreak is the second book of the Unstoppable trilogy, preceded by Victories Greater Than Death and concluded by the forthcoming Promises Greater Than Darkness, slated for release in 2023. Charlie Jane Anders is also the author of All the Birds in the Sky, The City in the Middle of the Night, Six Months, Three Days, Five Others, and several other novels and short story anthologies.

Since I’ve already posted once today, check out my May 2022 Wrap-Up for today’s song.

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

Sci-Fi Tropes, part 2: Spiders, Telekinesis, and More

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

I made a post a few months back discussing a handful of sci-fi tropes that I’ve seen in books—here it is, if you’d like to have a look! When I wrote it, I knew I’d be writing several more similar posts; the world of sci-fi literature is so diverse in its content, so there’s no shortage of tropes, however specific, that I can discuss. Some of these tropes are broader and others are fairly minute, but I think they’ll be a lot of fun to discuss.

So let’s dive in, shall we?

David welcomes you | Shipping | Know Your Meme

SCI-FI TROPES: PART 2

MYSTERIOUS, TELEKINETIC WOMEN

dark phoenix gif | Tumblr | Dark phoenix, Jean grey phoenix, Marvel gif
had to include her bc she was the blueprint for this trope…probably

Here’s an interesting one to tackle. I see this one almost exclusively in space operas, but the basic premise is usually as follows: a woman, usually younger than the rest of the main cast, is either gifted with or born with unexplainable and unparalleled telekinesis. This power usually means that she’s the main decider in ✨the fate of the universe✨. These powers of hers often result in mind-bending displays of grandeur, including but not limited to: killing enemies in disturbing ways, crumpling spaceships like soda cans, and bending space and time itself.

Often, these powers come along with an intense emotional burden; at the heart of it, there’s a quintessential “why me?” dilemma with respect to her powers. Inner conflict is all part of the package with godly telekinesis, which often results in this character losing her mind and/or lashing out at other members of the cast. And, well…given that it’s either a “puppet of an all-powerful cosmic entity” or “being devoured from the inside by space energy” situation, it’s understandable.

What sometimes rubs me the wrong way about this trope—although I’m all for cosmic women tearing apart the fabric of the universe (who isn’t?)—is the fact that most of these women have a lack of agency. Which, given that a lot of the characters that come to mind are written by men, is more than a little concerning. Even with all of this awe-inspiring power, these women are often portrayed as helpless. Many of their breakdowns about the burden of their power are often reduced to “oh, she’s just a women being overly emotional, typical.”

Which brings me to why I appreciate a particular instance of this trope—Auri from Aurora Rising. She may still be frightened of her own power, but she takes control of the situation—she takes it upon herself to master her powers, break away from the path that the Eshvaren have set for her, and ultimately save the galaxy. She has agency, and, yes, that’s the bare minimum, but she’s written with a significant amount of sway over her abilities as the books go on.

This trope can be poignant and powerful if used right, but if misused, it can lead to a lot of reductive stereotypes.

BOOKS WITH TROPES: Aurora Rising (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff), Forgotten Star (Colin Weldon), The Stars Now Unclaimed (Drew Williams)

IF THE ALIENS AREN’T BASICALLY HUMANS, THEY’RE JUST ANTHROPOMORPHIZED ANIMALS

Bossk Star Wars GIF - Bossk Star Wars Empire Strikes Back - Discover &  Share GIFs
this is far from the most dramatic example, but Bossk is the only one I can find a gif of

I get it. Creature design is hard—how do you create an alien that’s simultaneously familiar enough for a reader to project onto (if that’s the goal) but also weird enough to pass as “alien?”

In my last post, I talked about the trope of aliens that just looked like humans. That’s the ultimate alien design deal-breaker for me, unless there’s a good explanation for it. But in my opinion, the next level down is just making your aliens intelligent versions of animals with no other changes. Like the human-alien trope, it just feels like lazy design. It’s not that basing your alien design off of a certain animal is bad—on some level, most alien design is just that. The lazy part is just making an upright version of an already existing animal and changing nothing beyond that. (Plus, if it’s mammalian, you’re just…making intergalactic furries? Uh…)

One of the worst examples that I can recall is from The Stars Now Unclaimed, which I DNF’d. Not only was their an alien species that were just upright wolves, the species itself was called a Wulf. I KID YOU NOT. At that point, it’s almost…self-aware of how lazy it is? Or it seems that way, at any rate. But you just…don’t do that. Under any circumstances.

BOOKS WITH THIS TROPE: The Stars Now Unclaimed (Drew Williams), Earth Force Rising (Monica Tesler), Columbus Day (Craig Alanson)

AND ON THAT SUBJECT, WHAT’S WITH ALL THE SPIDERS?

Ron Weasley is my spirit animal - GIF on Imgur

While we’re on the topic of creature design, here’s another trope that I’ve found several times. Lots of alien species in literature—most intended to be menacing, but not all—have been based on spiders, or described as spiders or spider-like.

One aspect of basing an alien design off of an animal is to still try and make it as alien as possible, and one way to do that is to base it off of an animal that many already consider “alien” or “scary.” These are often invertebrates—cephalopods, jellyfish, insects, and arachnids—spiders. By creating a creature with elements that are already unnerving to a lot of people, you’ve achieved the effect of making it alien without making it totally unfamiliar.

But why spiders in particular? Most of the spider-aliens that I’ve seen at the forefront of sci-fi stories are meant to be menacing. I suppose there’s already a latent metaphor of spiders catching unsuspecting prey in their webs, if menacing is the route the author intends to go on. If these characters are meant to be antagonistic, spiders are the perfect combination—not only do they look alien to us, but they’re also a commonly feared animal. They’re also involved in a lot of insidious metaphors, creatures known for ensnaring their prey in webs. I can speak to the “commonly feared” part myself—I’m fine with really small ones (jumping spiders and such—they’re cute), but big spiders? No way. I blame the wolf spider that I found in my room when I was five. (WHY DO THEY RUN SO FAST AAAAAA)

As far as aliens with animal basis, I think spider-aliens are effective. Even if they do fall into the “animals with no changes other than intelligence” trope, at least they’re not completely bipedal and upright—eight legs! But already, they’re so wildly different from us—the perfect starting point for an interesting alien.

BOOKS WITH THIS TROPE: The Doom Machine (Mark Teague), Project Hail Mary (Andy Weir), One Giant Leap (Dare Mighty Things, #2) (Heather Kaczynski), The Outside (Ada Hoffmann)

THE FATE OF COMIC RELIEF RESTS ON THE MACHINES

C-3PO and R2-D2 discovered by Lux on We Heart It

Are none of your characters particularly funny? Have they not gotten the chance to banter properly? Are they all on a spaceship? I’ve got a trope for you, then…

This is the exact flip side of one of the tropes I mentioned in my first post—unhinged AI. Often times in space opera books with large cast, there is a character that’s some sort of machine: a droid, a ship’s AI, et cetera. But their main role, apart from providing convenient solutions to hacking-relation problems, is to lighten the mood.

So why machines? I’m not entirely sure myself, but I have a theory. Part of it may be to avoid risk—sometimes it’s too dangerous to have a character whose only personality trait is to be “sassy” or “the funny one,” so putting this personality onto an AI of some kind reduces the possibility of a one-dimensional flesh-and-blood character. AI are often reduced to minimal personality traits, as often, they’re designed for a particular task. Unless they have a short character arc where they have an epiphany of some kind about breaking free of their programming, they’re usually helpful vessels of humor in an otherwise hardened and dry-humored crew.

What’s more about this trope is how often it shows up—pick up any space-opera in the bookstore or the library, and there’s a good 75% chance that there’s a minor Sassy AI™️ character. I hesitate to say that it’s tried and true, but it’s certainly difficult to screw up. The problem is that most of them have the same sense of humor—sass, “oh, you humans are so stupid haha” condescension, and making jokes at inopportune times. (There’s also the inevitable running joke of the flesh-and-blood characters telling said AI character to shut up.) I appreciate good AI comic relief, but it’s become a formula, almost to the point where what I once thought was hilarious now makes me feel almost nothing.

So give your AI something unique—glitches, specific quirks, something, anything that will set it apart from 50% of other machines on the shelf.

BOOKS WITH THIS TROPE: Aurora Rising (Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff), Columbus Day (Craig Alanson), To Sleep in a Sea of Stars (Christopher Paolini), Crownchasers (Rebecca Coffindaffer), Honor Among Thieves (Ann Aguirre and Rachel Caine)

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! What are your opinions on these tropes? What are some other tropes that you’d like me to discuss? Tell me in the comments!

Blade Runner 2049 - Album on Imgur

Today’s song:

listened to this whole album the other day. it was hit or miss for me overall, but when it got good, it got good

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (11/16/21) – Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Wow. The day has finally come, folks. 1 and a half years of waiting, and now I have answers. My favorite series has come to a close, and yet it doesn’t feel like the end. It’s surreal to think that this may be it—the series that changed the course of my life, finally capping off. But if this really is the end, then Aurora’s End is the best conclusion that I could have ever asked for, and a book that I will no doubt cherish just as fervently as the first two books.

Now, TREAD LIGHTLY! If you haven’t read Aurora Rising or Aurora Burning and intend to, beware of spoilers! If you want to read my previous reviews, look no further:

Enjoy this week’s review!

Aurora's End by Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff | Penguin Random House Canada
F I N

Aurora’s End (Aurora Cycle, #3) – Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff

my copy ft. Aurora Burning and Aurora Rising, plus a cool filter and some crystals (not Eshvaren crystals oop)
last picture, I promise—here’s Finny boy with Hobbes, one of my cats

For all intents and purposes, the Battle of Terra was the end for Squad 312. They failed to stop the Starslayer from harnessing the Eshvaren’s Weapon, and intergalactic war is imminent. Meanwhile, the Ra’Haam slips in through the chaos, threatening to cover the entire universe in its spores.

But by a cosmic twist of fate, Tyler, Auri, Kal, Zila, Scarlett, and Finian are unscathed. They’ve been separated by time, and the only chance they have at thwarting the Ra’Haam is turning history itself inside out. Time is not on their side, though, and it may not be enough to save civilization itself from being wiped out.

karlmordo - This is how things are now! You and me. Trapped in...
Aurora’s End without context

TW/CW: graphic violence, mild sexual content, blood, near-death situations, severe allergic reaction, emergency medical procedures, loss of loved ones, death, descriptions of injury, body horror

[WARNING: this review may contain spoilers for Aurora Rising and Aurora Burning!]

I still haven’t come to grips with the fact that this is really the end of the Aurora Cycle. But as someone whose life was permanently altered for the better by this trilogy, I can say with certainty that this is the best end to the series that I could have ever asked for. My heart is so, so, so full of love.

There were so many factors that went into the separate situations that Squad 312 got themselves into, but Kaufman and Kristoff have once again proved that nothing is impossible. Time is distorted, there are future selves to be dealt with, technology and ancient aliens races are as complicated as ever, and of course, Past Pete is here to kill Future Pete. Lucky for us, Kaufman & Kristoff have been rapid-firing Chekhov’s gun, and every detail from the past two books comes full circle. After how mind-boggling the plot and cliffhanger of Aurora Burning were, Aurora’s End brings everything back in superbly clever and surprising ways, making for a trilogy that’s more cohesive than ever before.

And my emotions…MY EMOTIONS! After so long apart, reuniting with Squad 312 felt like reuniting with long-lost friends. Despite this being the last book, the development that many characters got was such a beautiful way to bring them all the way back and display the enormous growth many of them have had over the course of the series. Out of all of them, though, I thoroughly enjoyed getting to see Finian and Scarlett’s relationship develop; they’re such an unlikely couple, but the love they have for each other is so consistently tender and heartwarming. Plus, a) NORMALIZE BI PEOPLE IN STRAIGHT PASSING RELATIONSHIPS! STRAIGHT-PASSING RELATIONSHIPS ARE SO VERY VALID!, and b) DISABLED PEOPLE!! IN LOVING RELATIONSHIPS!! WE NEED MORE OF THOSE!! Nothing can top Kalauri, but Fin and Scar come very, very close. I LOVE those two. Power couple. Finian is the once and future disaster bisexual.

Also, Tyler trying to be all “space pirate”-y after an entire lifetime of being Captain America was a train wreck…comedy gold

One aspect of Kaufman and Kristoff’s writing that I haven’t often touched on is how they build tension. Their skill at developing heart-pounding tension is especially evident in Aurora’s End; they did such a masterful job of raising the stakes over the course of these three books, and bringing it all to a nail-biting cataclysm towards the end. The last 100 pages of Aurora’s End had me stressed out to no end, but…in a good way? It made me genuinely worried for everybody involved. Look, I’ve gotten way to attached to my space misfits over the past two years. Let me off the hook this once.

Along with all that, Kaufman and Kristoff once again more than delivered with everything that made the first two books so strong. The universe was expanded upon in surprising ways, the characters were more fleshed out and lovable than ever, the chemistry was impeccable, the action sequences had me clutching the book in a vice grip, and the dialogue hit the perfect balance of levity, tenderness, and solemnity. The found family of Squad 312 is stronger than ever, and my heart is still bursting with love for all of them.

It’s hard to end this review. It isn’t every day that a series changes my life, but the Aurora Cycle truly did. These books taught me so much about moving through this world as an outsider; Auri taught me that I didn’t have to be brave or strong to be a hero, and that people with the fate of the world on their shoulders can have their big feels too. She was the first time I’d really seen a mixed-race hero, and having a character like her means the world to me. I’ve come to see myself in Finian, and he’s taught me that I deserve love just as I am. And Squad 312 has taught me that no matter who you are, there will always be a home for the outsiders. It cemented, more than ever, that even if you think that you are alone in the world, somebody out there loves you, and will give you a home.

All in all, the perfect ending for a series that changed my life for the better. 5 stars for the sake of Goodreads, but realistically, however many stars there are in the known universe.

Squad 312 forever. 💗

never again shall we submit

Aurora’s End is the final book in the Aurora Cycle, preceded by Aurora Rising (#1) and Aurora Burning (#2). Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff have also written the Illuminae Files together; Amie Kaufman is also the author of the Starbound trilogy (co-written with Meagan Spooner) and the Elementals series, and Jay Kristoff is also the author of the LIFEL1K3 trilogy and Empire of the Vampire.

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Goodreads Monday

Goodreads Monday (11/15/21) – Entangled

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

I’ve been a fan of A.R. Capetta for a while, but I’ve never gotten around to reading their debut. I’ll read any promising space opera that I come across, and judging from how fantastic Once & Future was, I’m hoping this novel will be more of the same.

Let’s begin, shall we?

GOODREADS MONDAY (11/15/21) – ENTANGLED by A.R. Capetta

Entangled (Entangled, #1) by A.R. Capetta

Blurb from Goodreads:

Alone was the note Cade knew best. It was the root of all her chords.

Seventeen-year-old Cade is a fierce survivor, solo in the universe with her cherry-red guitar. Or so she thought. Her world shakes apart when a hologram named Mr. Niven tells her she was created in a lab in the year 3112, then entangled at a subatomic level with a boy named Xan. 

 Cade’s quest to locate Xan joins her with an array of outlaws—her first friends—on a galaxy-spanning adventure. And once Cade discovers the wild joy of real connection, there’s no turning back.

So why do I want to read this?

Snail Mail - "Heat Wave" (Official Video) on Make a GIF

I’m already a sucker for space opera, but guitars? A cherry-red guitar, to be exact? [aggressively slams credit card on the table]

I’ve read nearly everything of A.R. Capetta’s, so that’s already a motivation for me to read Entangled. Their prose is consistently hooking, and their LGBTQ+ representation never fails. Once & Future is their only other sci-fi book, so I’m hoping that reading Entangled will give me a glimpse of how they’ve grown in the genre since then.

Even if it wasn’t A.R. Capetta, I would have 100% been on board! We’ve got a whole host of factors that are simultaneously drawing me in—aliens, outlaws, galaxy-spanning quests…what’s not to love? Plus, I already adore the concept of Cade as this reluctant, wandering traveler who just wants to play guitar. I feel you, Cade, I feel you.

The reviews on this one are leaning on the mediocre side (3.54 at present), but at this point, I’m undeterred. Most of the complaints have been about the flimsy science, which, well…I know when a piece of media is just sticking “quantum” onto every other word to make them sound smart, but I also deliberately didn’t take a physics class, so it shouldn’t be a major issue. As for the execution (the other major complaint)…well, I guess I’ll see for myself.

Visual Typing (Socionics) - Page 9 | Cosmos, Space art, Colorful gifs

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Goodreads Monday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

Undercover LGBTQ+ Books for Closeted Readers

Happy Friday, bibliophiles!

I’ve seen lists like this floating around on some bookish Reels on Instagram, and I figured that I wanted to make a list of my own for the blogosphere.

What I mean by “undercover” is this: if you’re a closeted reader and you’re in a homophobic space/community, you can read these books without anyone else knowing that you’re LGBTQ+, but you can still get the LGBTQ+ rep that you want to see. These are books that have great queer representation, but aren’t explicitly queer from the cover or synopsis. That way, if you’re in an unsupportive/homophobic space, you can still seek out good LGBTQ+ books without outing yourself. These are mostly YA books, but we’ve got several genres in the mix. I know I’m lucky to have supportive family and friends, but it sadly isn’t the reality for all queer people, so I thought I’d provide this list for others in that situation.

And as always, never forget: you are loved, you are valid, you are beautiful, and nobody has any say in your identity except for you. 💗

Let’s begin, shall we?

🌈UNDERCOVER LGBTQ+ BOOKS FOR CLOSETED READERS🌈

Dare Mighty Things – Heather Kaczynski

Amazon.com: Dare Mighty Things: 9780062479860: Kaczynski, Heather: Books

GENRES: sci-fi, thriller

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.25

Cassandra, the main character, is asexual, and there’s also a secondary character who is bisexual! This one’s a must read if you love high-stakes competitions and sci-fi mysteries and thrillers.

Fire With Fire – Destiny Soria

Fire with Fire by Destiny Soria

GENRES: fantasy, paranormal, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

I got this one as an eARC last year, and it was such a fun fantasy! Dani, one of two POV protagonists, is bisexual as well as mixed-race (white/Latine), and frankly, there’s not much better than queer girls and dragons, so this one’s a must-read.

Spellhacker – M.K. England

Amazon.com: Spellhacker: 9780062657701: England, M. K.: Books

GENRES: sci-fi, urban fantasy, fantasy

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

There’s no shortage of great LGBTQ+ rep in this novel – Diz is queer, her love interest is nonbinary (as well as the author!), and there’s several wlw and mlm couples interspersed throughout. I’ll always recommend this one for fans of both sci-fi and fantasy – it’s a great blend of the two genres!

Victories Greater Than Death – Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death | Charlie Jane Anders | Macmillan

GENRES: sci-fi, space opera

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

This one’s sure to please all the YA space opera fans – lots of strange aliens, sudden powers, and intergalactic battles. There’s no shortage of good queer rep in this one – Tina is bi/pan, her love interest is a Black trans woman, and there’s a wide variety of pronouns used for the many (MANY) characters!

On a Sunbeam – Tillie Walden

Amazon.com: On a Sunbeam: 9781250178138: Walden, Tillie: Books

GENRES: graphic novels, sci-fi, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t use masterpiece lightly, but On a Sunbeam absolutely is one. With simplistic but stunning artwork and a multiracial wlw relationship told in alternating timelines, there’s no excuse to pass this one by.

Sawkill Girls – Claire Legrand

Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand – The Hub

GENRES: horror, paranormal, fantasy

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I don’t normally go for horror, but this was an unexpected 5-star read for me! All three protagonists are queer – Marion is bisexual, Zoey is asexual, Val is a lesbian, and there’s a wlw relationship!

Other Words for Smoke – Sarah Maria Griffin

Amazon.com: Other Words for Smoke: 9780062408914: Griffin, Sarah Maria:  Books

GENRES: paranormal, horror, magical realism

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️.5

None of Sarah Maria Griffin’s books are talked about enough – Other Words for Smoke is hauntingly beautiful and well-written in every sense of the word. There’s a lesbian relationship in this one, and it’s unrelentingly feminist as well.

Wild Beauty – Anna-Marie McLemore

Buy Wild Beauty: A Novel Book Online at Low Prices in India | Wild Beauty:  A Novel Reviews & Ratings - Amazon.in

GENRES: magical realism, fantasy, romance

MY RATING: ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️

I highly recommend anything of Anna-Marie McLemore’s – their novels always have the most gorgeous prose, combined with fairytale-like fantasies and Latine culture and mythology. Their books always include queer characters, but this one in particular features an entire cast of queer sisters and a genderqueer love interest!

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK! Did you like any of these books? Do you have any undercover LGBTQ+ recommendations? Tell me in the comments!

Books to Celebrate Pride Month | Penguin Random House Canada

Today’s song:

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday

Book Review Tuesday (7/20/21) – Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles, #2)

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

For the most part, I really enjoyed reading Off Planet, the first book in Aileen Erin’s Aunare Chronicles; I read it on vacation, and I loved the fast-paced action. So on a whim (and because it was pretty cheap), I bought book 2 on my Kindle and read it between library hauls.

But…

[heavy sigh]

Oh god, I can’t believe that these books are from the same series…Off Balance took everything that I didn’t like about book 1 and made it the main focus of the plot, making for a mess of a sequel that I had neither the will nor the patience to finish.

(find my mini-review of book 1, Off Planet, here!)

Enjoy this week’s review!

Amazon.com: Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles Book 2) eBook: Erin, Aileen:  Kindle Store

Off Balance (Aunare Chronicles, #2) – Aileen Erin

On the run from Earth and SpaceTech, Amihanna di Aetes flees to the other half of her heritage, the powerful, spacefaring Aunare. Even surrounded by the riches of her father’s estate, her life is one of constant fear – fear of Spacetech, and fear of the aliens who look at her like vermin for her half-human heritage. But as tensions within the royal family begin to rise surrounding her, she must think on her feet to make it out alive.

Gyllenaals GIF | Gfycat

TW/CW: discrimination, trauma-related nightmares, frightening situations, violence, bombing, 10+ year age gap between protagonist and love interest*

*yeah, you heard me right…see the fourth paragraph for me freaking out about that

DNF at 68%

Oh god…where do I begin with this one? It pains me to write DNF reviews these days. Really. It’s so rare for my ratings for a series to drop this much…I gave Off Planet a solid 3.5 stars, and here we have Off Balance with a measly 1…I feel pretty bad about it, but YIKES.

I really wanted to like Off Balance. I really did. But it just kept getting more and more frustrating with every page, and with around 500 pages, there came a point where I couldn’t take any more of it. It’s like everything that I didn’t care about in book 1 was emphasized, and then made 10 times worse…

First off, let me talk about the Aunare for a second. I was excited to see what their culture and physiology and such was like, but…there were hardly any differences from humans. I tried to brush off the fact that Lorne looked like an ordinary human in book 1, but, alas, here we have the “aliens that look exactly like humans but with ✨pretty eye colors✨ and they’re all ✨ridiculously attractive✨” trope. And they glow this time. Oh, joy. Furthermore, other than some of the food and the whole glowing business, all of the culture that we got was just…wild parties in ballrooms and messy stuff with the royal family? If nobody had told me that this was a space opera, I could have passed this off as a fully human cast. All those parties got mind-numbing eventually, which…maybe that was the point? I don’t even know…

And then there’s the issue of Lorne. I don’t judge love interests by whether or not I’m attracted to them, which, I’ll admit, doesn’t happen a whole lot to me in books. He already put me off a bit because of my association of his name from Lorne Malvo from Fargo (oops), but he was just all kinds of frustrating in this book. He was just such a startlingly bland character – there was nothing that distinguished him from any other YA love interest. And the whole thing with him and Amihanna…I just felt…nothing? I wasn’t invested in their relationship in any way, and all of the lines that were supposed to be tender or heartwarming just made me roll my eyes. And…IS NOBODY GONNA TALK ABOUT THE FACT THAT THERE’S AN 11-YEAR AGE GAP BETWEEN HIM AND AMIHANNA?

WHY IS NOBODY ADDRESSING THIS??

WHY?

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ALL KINDS OF CREEPY. AND NOBODY SEEMS TO BE BATTING AN EYE. WHY?

[waves hands around] okay, okay. Lemme cool off a minute.

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Okay. Now that I’ve gotten that off my chest…

Other than that, the plot just seemed to be completely absent. It was an endless cycle of Amihanna doing some training, drama with the royal family, drama with Dylan, drama with Lorne…just drama. If I didn’t know any better, I would have thought that this was a book from an entirely different series than the first book. I’m still so puzzled as to how we got from such an action-packed first book to…whatever this was.

In the end, I just couldn’t stand to read another page. The plot started to pick up a little, but by that point, I’d lost all will to read Off Balance. So it was a DNF for me.

All in all, a bitter, messy disappointment of a sequel that lacked in everything that made Off Planet a reasonably compelling read. Off Planet is still worth a read, but…maybe just stop at book 1. 1, sad little star.

Smh Disappointed GIF - Smh Disappointed HeadShake - Discover & Share GIFs |  Steve harrington and robin, Robin, Stranger things wallpaper

Off Balance is the second book in the Aunare Chronicles, preceded by Off Planet and succeeded by In Command (#2.5, a novella) and On Mission (#3).

Today’s song:

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Book Review Tuesday, Books

Book Review Tuesday (5/18/21) – Victories Greater Than Death

Happy Tuesday, bibliophiles!

Whoops…I’ve been meaning to review this for…oh, about a month? But studying for AP tests and finals just said “no you won’t :)” so here we are now

And this is also the first review I’ve written in a month, so…

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[ahem] now back to our scheduled program

I found out about this book via Edelweiss, and the more I heard about it, the more excited I got; Star Wars-inspired sci-fi with tons of queer characters, found family, and a gorgeous cover? SIGN ME UP. So I preordered it at the beginning of this year, and it came in the mail last month. And although it wasn’t exactly everything that I wanted it to be, it was still a lot of fun!

Enjoy this week’s review!

Victories Greater Than Death by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death (Unstoppable, #1) – Charlie Jane Anders

My copy feat. some pretty flowers

On the surface, Tina Mains is an ordinary teenage girl, but she hides an earth-shattering secret: she’s the secret clone of a great alien general. When she comes of age, her destiny is to reunite with her old crewmates in order to defeat intergalactic evil.

No pressure.

So when her beacon finally activates, Tina and her best friend are launched into space, joined by a myriad of aliens and an enlisted squad of self-proclaimed nerds from Earth. As Tina struggles to grapple with her transformation, she realizes that it’ll take more than just inherited wisdom to save the galaxy from annihilation.

I'm new to this sub. Would this Kahoot quote be a possible usable template?  : MemeEconomy
me @ the first half of this book

TW/CW: violence, transphobia, racism, mentions of abuse (past), eugenics

The more I found out about this one, the more excited I got, because…yeah, I’ll pick up anything that’s billed as a “queer space opera.” (Hey. I’m a woman of simple tastes.) But although it wasn’t without its flaws, Victories Greater Than Death was SO much fun!

My major criticism was the pacing. Most space opera is generally pretty fast-paced, but this was…far too much so. I like for things to move along quickly, but for the first half of Victories, everything seemed to happen in mere seconds. We’re on Earth? Nope. WHAM. Weird stuff’s immediately happening. Next page? Different weird thing. WITHOUT MERCY. The pacing made my head spin a bit, but luckily, this was my only major criticism.

Otherwise? GAAAH THIS WAS SO MUCH FUN! The world needs more sci-fi like this; diverse, and with a balanced tone juggling light-hearted fun and grave action. Tina’s struggle as she was thrust into a completely unfamiliar world of aliens and intergalactic politics (and not to mention her newfound legacy) was wonderfully relatable, and I had so much fun tagging along with her adventures across the galaxy. The representation was also incredible: Tina herself is bi/pan, her love interest is a Black trans woman who is also bi/pan, there’s Black, Chinese, and Indian side characters, and many of the alien crewmates have a variety of pronouns. And I’m always up for normalizing asking for people’s pronouns in introductions, and there’s lots of that.

One of the unique aspects of Victories Greater Than Death is that Anders took some pitfalls that most books handle poorly and used them to her advantage. There’s quite a lot of infodumping, but there’s a good reason for it – as Tina is making the transition from her human self to her original alien form, her brain is filling in the gaps as the information from her old life is returning to her. Normally, I absolutely despite infodumps (don’t we all, though?), but this was a genius way to make it work! There was also a huge cast – Tina, Rachel, the rest of the humans, plus all of her alien crewmates; it was tough to remember all of them for most of the book, but weirdly enough, the high body count…helped? Most of the alien characters were fairly underdeveloped, but the ones that we knew almost nothing about were killed off by the end of the book, which…morbidly enough, made things a bit less confusing. Morbid, I know, but I think there had to be at least 20 characters in all. (Same deal with season 4 of Fargo, if you think about it – super wide cast of characters, but at least 80% of them die by the end, so…)

Through it all, though, Victories Greater Than Death made me feel a little warm and fuzzy inside; even though these characters face unbeatable odds, they’re consistently there for each other. No matter their backgrounds or beliefs, they stuck together no matter what. It’s such a sweet found family story.

All in all, a YA sci-fi that was messy and a bit *toooooooo* fast at worst, but diverse, light-hearted, and colorful at best. 3.5 stars!

the next world | Guardians of the galaxy, Marvel cinematic universe, Marvel  cinematic

Victories Greater Than Death is the first in the Unstoppable trilogy, followed by two untitled (as of now) books set to come out in 2022 and 2023, respectively. Charlie Jane Anders is also the author of All the Birds in the Sky, The City in the Middle of the Night, and several other novels.

Today’s song:

no I’m not gonna shut up about this album

That’s it for this week’s Book Review Tuesday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books

A YA Reader’s Guide to Space Opera 👽

Happy Thursday, bibliophiles!

Would you look at that…for once, I actually have a post that isn’t a meme, an update, or a book tag…

I’ve been planning for this one a little bit, and I’m excited to get into it! If you’ve been following this blog for a while, you know how much I love sci-fi. So for this post, I decided to go semi-in-depth on my favorite subgenre of science fiction and dole out some recommendations of mine.

Let’s begin, shall we?

So first off, what is space opera anyway?

Steam Community :: :: Obi-wan has taught you well.

In all forms of media, space opera is a subgenre of science fiction. It tends to focus less on the heavy science/physics of the universe it’s in, and more on aspects such as plot and characters. There’s often adventures at a breakneck pace, intergalactic war or conflict, strange planets/other locations, and drama between a set of characters. A lot of space opera media that I’ve consumed tends to throw in a ragtag bunch of characters with nothing in common together, and then throws them into an adventure of epic proportions. (Commonly referred to in many of my posts and reviews as “[chaotic] space misfits.”) More often than not, there’s some light elements of fantasy, sometimes as placeholders to explain the workings of the universe. And, as you probably can figure out, it’s usually set in space or on a distant planet.

Star Wars is often used as the quintessential example of a space opera–dogfights in space, romance, strange worlds, and (amazing) lightsaber duels. (What more could you possibly want?) Although it’s probably not *the original* space opera, it’s influenced a huge chunk of space opera/sci-fi media for the last 40-ish years. Guardians of the Galaxy is another widely-known example of space opera, and from= the world of literature, Dune and Foundation are some of the most well-loved space opera classics.

I'm Mary Poppins, y'all! (gif) | Guardians of the galaxy, Marvel cinematic,  Marvel cinematic universe

Sci-fi has only become my favorite book genre in the past…six or seven years; for a while, I was mostly drawn to fantasy, but after reading Tony DiTerlizzi’s Search for WondLa trilogy, there was no going back. And I was raised on a steady diet of Star Wars, so it was bound to happen eventually. There’s a multitude of reasons why I’m drawn to it. Even though fantasy has virtually no limits as far as making up universes goes, there’s just something about about flying through the vast reaches of space and traveling to strange worlds that has always appealed to me. And as someone who’s been something of an outcast for the better part of my life, I’m drawn like a magnet to any kind of found-family tropes. Now, I know full well that it’s not exclusive to space opera, but everything from Star Wars to Aurora Rising has a cast of strange and distinct characters that come to see themselves as a family, and I’ve always loved the theme of finding your tribe of weirdos.

So now, if you say “space opera,” there’s a good chance that I’ll immediately want to read it. (Doesn’t mean I’ll love it–there’s good and bad books in every genre, of course–but I’ll certainly read it.)

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Now, I’ve compiled a list of some YA space opera recommendations! Each one is tailored to different types of readers/tastes, because I firmly believe there’s something for everybody, even if sci-fi isn’t normally your thing. So let’s get to it, shall we?

🪐YA SPACE OPERA RECS🪐

For readers who like character-driven books…

Amazon.com: Heart of Iron (9780062652850): Poston, Ashley: Books

Heart of Iron duology–Ashley Poston

A retelling of the story of Anastasia, this unique duology boasts a diverse and lovable cast of characters, royal intrigue, creepy androids, and some really cool spaceships.

For readers who like fairytale retellings…

Amazon.com: Once & Future (9780316449274): McCarthy, Cori, Capetta, Amy  Rose: Books

Once & Future–A.R. Capetta and Cori McCarthy

A retelling of Arthurian legend where the reincarnation of King Arthur is a pansexual woman of color and a spell gone wrong made Merlin age backwards…into an awkward, voice-cracky teenager. Super diverse, super feminist, and super fun!

For readers who love a good found-family story…

Aurora Rising - (Aurora Cycle) By Amie Kaufman & Jay Kristoff (Paperback) :  Target

Aurora Cycle–Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

In short, this is what happens when you put Captain America in a spaceship with his sister, his ex, a whole bunch of random students from the bottom of his class, and a girl with a glowing eye that may or may not start an intergalactic war. Hands down, my favorite series of all time.

For readers who love a little romance…

Amazon.com: Defy the Stars (Defy the Stars (1)) (9780316394031): Gray,  Claudia: Books

The Constellation trilogy–Claudia Gray

The worldbuilding and the imagery are beautiful in all three books, but it’s really the unlikely relationship between Noemi and Abel that shines in this one. [🥺 intensifies]

For readers who like plots with high-stakes competitions…

Amazon.com: Crownchasers (9780062845160): Coffindaffer, Rebecca: Books

Crownchasers–Rebecca Coffindaffer

(Would you look at that…another pansexual protagonist!)

I had my expectations a *bit* too high for this one, but it was still a whole lot of fun! A lot of reviewers have pitched it as Aurora Rising meets The Hunger Games, and I’d say that’s pretty spot-on. I’m excited to see what Coffindaffer has up their sleeve for book 2.

For fans of steampunk…

Tarnished Are the Stars by Rosiee Thor

Tarnished Are the Stars–Rosiee Thor

This one has elements of both sci-fi and fantasy woven in–royal intrigue on other worlds, and lots of clockwork hearts! Plus, it’s a beautiful queer story; we have a wlw romance, as well as a beautiful aro-ace coming out scene for one of the main characters.

For readers who prefer standalones to series…

Amazon.com: Last of Her Name (9781338243369): Khoury, Jessica: Books

Last of Her Name–Jessica Khoury

Another space opera retelling of Anastasia, comin’ right up…

Last of Her Name is a truly beautiful novel, with intricate and detailed worldbuilding, tender romance, and no shortage of twists that I couldn’t see coming. I do wish we’d gotten a larger glimpse into this world, but it was still satisfying as one book.

For thriller fans…

Amazon.com: Illuminae (The Illuminae Files) (9780553499117): Amie Kaufman,  Jay Kristoff: Books

The Illuminae Files–Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff

Normally, I’d try to avoid putting two series from the same author(s) in a post like this, but Amie Kaufman and Jay Kristoff are masters of sci-fi, so I kind of *had to.* Composed of interviews, emails, security footage, and more, this is truly a trilogy like no other.

TELL ME WHAT YOU THINK? What are your favorite space opera books? Do you have any space opera recs for us? Tell me in the comments!

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Today’s song:

That’s it for this post! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Goodreads Monday

Goodreads Monday (12/28/20)–Under Falling Skies

Hi there, bibliophiles, and welcome to the last Goodreads Monday of 2020! (Whoa…)

Falling Cat | Know Your Meme
When that feeling of “thank god 2020 is almost over” combined with “WAIT THE YEAR IS ALMOST OVER” hits

Anyway, Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme created by Lauren’s Page Turners. All you have to do to participate is pick a book from your Goodreads TBR, and explain why you want to read it.

Here we have yet another book that I put on my TBR this year and completely forgot about until a week ago…but hey, it’s nice to remember those kinds of books again. Plus, I’m always up for some good sci-fi.

Let’s begin, shall we?

GOODREADS MONDAY (12/28/20)–UNDER FALLING SKIES by Kate MacLeod

Under Falling Skies by Kate MacLeod

Blurb from Goodreads:

Scout Shannon’s whole family died the day the Space Farers dropped an asteroid on their domed city. Now she lives alone, out in the wild with only her dogs for company. She prefers it that way.

But Scout finds herself at a crossroads. One road leads back to a quiet life snug under the protective dome of a city. The other road leads to a life in the rebellion, a life of adventure and excitement but also danger. Dare she try to find the rebels hiding in the hills?

Then a chance encounter with a stranger from the other side of the galaxy threatens to derail what remains of Scout’s life. The entire galaxy awaits her, if she survives the next four days.

SO WHY DO I WANT TO READ THIS?

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As of now, Under Falling Skies has a fairly low average rating on Goodreads (3.39), but that’s only from…28 ratings and only six reviews? And it came out in 2017? Jeez…

This novel is advertised as not only having a sci-fi appeal, but having an “Old West” vibe too, so that could have an interesting execution. I’m certainly drawn in by the premise of Scout, alone (save for her dogs) and trying to hunt down the last fragments of a rebellion in an unforgiving wasteland. Kind of Dustborn vibes, but with more space opera appeal.

It looks like this one’s self-published, and it’s always good to boost the voices of indie/self-published authors, so maybe in doing this blog post (and hopefully reading it soon), I can get the word around and get some more readers. Plus, it’s only $0.99 for the Kindle edition on Amazon at present…

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Today’s song:

That’s it for the last Goodreads Monday of 2020! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!

Posted in Books, Goodreads Monday

Goodreads Monday (11/30/20)–Victories Greater Than Death

Happy Monday, bibliophiles!

Goodreads Monday is a weekly meme created by Lauren’s Page Turners. All you have to do to participate is pick a book from your Goodreads TBR, and explain why you want to read it.

This week’s pick is another 2021 release that came on my radar via Edelweiss. I was excited from the start, but the cover made me want to read it even more!

Let’s begin, shall we?

GOODREADS MONDAY (11/30/20)–VICTORIES GREATER THAN DEATH by Charlie Jane Anders

Victories Greater Than Death | Charlie Jane Anders | Macmillan

Blurb from Goodreads:

A thrilling adventure set against an intergalactic war with international bestselling author Charlie Jane Anders at the helm in her YA debut—think Star Wars meets Doctor Who, and buckle your seatbelts

Tina has always known her destiny is outside the norm—after all, she is the human clone of the most brilliant alien commander in all the galaxies (even if the rest of the world is still deciding whether aliens exist). But she is tired of waiting for her life to begin.

And then it does—and maybe Tina should have been more prepared. At least she has a crew around her that she can trust—and her best friend at her side. Now, they just have to save the world.

So why do I want to read this?

star wars: attack of the clones | Tumblr

When I first found out about Victories, it didn’t have a cover…and now that it’s out, lemme just say…ISN’T IT THE DICTIONARY DEFINITION OF GORGEOUS? The faint star details on the sidelines, the beautiful shade of purple in the hair and the eyes, the art style, the…everything…

But beyond that, this sounds like an amazing premise! I’m always searching for quality YA sci-fi and space opera, and this looks like it might just satisfy. I love the concept of Tina being the clone of an infamous alien warlord, and that could certainly open up tons of interesting possibilities as far as the plot goes. (I’m just hoping said aliens aren’t…y’know, unnaturally attractive humans with unconventional eye colors. Just…stop…) And it’s shelved as LGBTQ+ on Goodreads, so that’s always a plus!

Chances are, this is going to be my first experience of Charlie Jane Anders’ writing, and I think this is her YA debut, too. (I also have The City in the Middle of the Night on my TBR). I always see her on the list of authors/artists/creators who almost always comes to the Denver Pop Culture Con (formerly Denver Comic Con), which is the closest thing I have to a local Comic Con, so it’d be cool if I enjoyed her books AND got to meet her in the next few years! Fingers crossed…I might just have to preorder this one sometime soon.

Victories Greater than Death comes out in April 2021, so I’ll see you all then…

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Today’s song:

Jeff Tweedy: master musician and songwriter, purveyor of many mildly cursed music videos

That’s it for this week’s Goodreads Monday! Have a wonderful rest of your day, and take care of yourselves!