Tag: queer fic


Review – Pantomime

Posted 1 December, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Pantomime by Laura LamPantomime, Laura Lam

I know, I know. It’s taken me far too long to get round to reading Pantomime, and I deserve a kicking. I really do, because now I’ve finally read it, I wish I hadn’t taken so long. It’s pretty unique in that it has an intersex protagonist and a queer love story, but it’s not just about that. I’m fascinated by the world, too: the different species, the magic, the Vestiges, what the mysterious glass is… And by the end of the book, I very much wanted to know more about Drystan, too.

I did have one disappointment, and that was the love interest’s reaction to Micah’s revelation of the fact that he is intersex. Also, I wish I was a little clearer on what pronouns Micah would prefer, just because I feel weird saying either he or she in the context. In real life, of course, I’d just ask. The ending of the arc with the love interest just really annoyed me, because it felt like an easy way out of dealing with the complex emotions that’d been stirred up by Micah’s revelation.

I’m definitely eager to read the rest, despite that discomfort throughout the book where I felt that reveal scene coming. I hope it’s not such a big thing in the other books, though.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
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Review – Trouble and Her Friends

Posted 19 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trouble and Her Friends by Melissa ScottTrouble and Her Friends, Melissa Scott

Trouble and Her Friends is old school queer cyberpunk — enough said? It is a little on the slow side, but I found that the pacing worked for me: I needed to get to know Trouble (and, well, her friends), and get settled in the world and the old school view of the internet and how it works. I enjoyed the sheer number of queer characters a lot, although it was a little jarring to have a world where they’re clearly somewhat looked down on. From my comfortable position here, it feels like most things are pretty okay on that front.

Once you get a handle on the lingo, it’s a pretty easy read. It’s not hard to guess where certain plot threads are going — surprise! Cerise and Trouble reunite; they keep talking about Seahaven and its Mayor for a reason! — but it takes its sweet time in unwinding all of that. There’s no sudden jumps ahead without pausing to consider, and the characters typically do not do stupid unhelpful things that cause them more trouble. Each step is a step forward, more or less.

I really enjoyed visiting this world, even though it’s one that took its time. The details of the net, the brainworm, the way the characters could hack in a sort of virtual reality, were all fascinating — and so were their relationships and goals. Honestly, I was going to compare it to a sort of cowboy story for the internet before they wore white hats in the final section.

Rating: 4/5

Buy this book: Amazon UK | Amazon US | The Book Depository
The above affiliate links, at no extra cost to you, provide a small commission for me if you purchase something.

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Review – Sea, Swallow Me

Posted 15 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Sea, Swallow MeSea, Swallow Me, and Other Stories, Craig Laurence Gidney

I’m not honestly sure what I thought of this collection. The writing is really strong, and I found that I had to keep turning the pages to get more of it — but some of the stories just grossed me out so much and made me feel really uncomfortable. They’re undoubtedly powerful, but not really a style that I enjoy. There’s a bit in the Goodreads description that about sums this set of stories up: “rich, poetic, dark and disturbing”. Yep.

One of the most powerful of the bunch is definitely the most disturbing to me; if you want warnings about what ‘Etiolate’ contains, I can let you know.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Connection Error

Posted 12 November, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Connection Error by Annabeth AlbertConnection Error, Annabeth Albert

I originally received this to review, but ended up picking it up on the Kobo store when I needed a pick-me-up, rather later than the release date! It’s the third in a series, but it’s a loosely connected series with new main characters for each book; this one features Navy SEAL Ryan, an amputee, and game designer Josiah. Both of them have disabilities: Ryan is just learning to cope with being an amputee and going back to civilian life, while Josiah has ADHD which makes him impulsive and prone to forgetting the important things. This sets up a nice dynamic between the two of them, and I enjoy that it isn’t just plain sailing: Josiah blurts out the wrong thing several times, apologises awkwardly, etc, etc, while Ryan’s steady ability to look ahead and work things out helps Josiah steady himself.

It isn’t all plain sailing in terms of their relationship, either, starting with a casual sort-of-hook-up in a hotel while stranded by snow, supplemented by some gaming, and slowly growing into a stronger connection which both of them avoid naming or solidifying for far too long, despite their growing attachment. The emotional stuff between them is well-written, and their actions make sense: there’s no stupid misunderstandings that would just be solved by some basic communication, but rather genuine issues caused by their situations and personalities.

The exploration of Ryan’s new disabilities is well done, in my opinion; it explores some of the difficulties he has with physicality, some of the things he has to get used to, but he is also unequivocally still a sexual person. Josiah’s ADHD, too, is dealt with sympathetically.

There are quite a few sex scenes in this book, as with much romance (particularly queer romances); they’re well-written and don’t forget the characters’ limitations or characteristics, and though they’re not exactly essential to the plot, they are key in demonstrating how the relationship between the two men works and grows. The main thing that I enjoyed, though, is that it isn’t just about the sex, and we get windows into both characters as they navigate life. My only quibble is that sometimes the time jumps felt a little weird, and the formatting of the Kobo ebook made it difficult to tell what was actually typed and what was just thought during the gaming sessions.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Tiger’s Daughter

Posted 24 October, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 8 Comments

Cover of The Tiger's Daughter by K. Arsenault RiveraThe Tiger’s Daughter, K. Arsenault Rivera

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 3rd October 2017

I wanted to love The Tiger’s Daughter, because there’s queer protagonists with a love story, a non-medieval-Europe fantasy setting, etc, etc. The writing at first promised to be beautiful, but I found the segue into the series of letters from one of the characters really off-putting. It makes it all second person (which can be done wonderfully, but wore on me here), and it requires one protagonist to tell the other stories as if she wasn’t there… despite them actually being present. So “you said to me, we did x, I did y to you”… It just feels too contrived at that point. It’s also rather slow-paced: this is less a fantasy story with romance, and more a romance story with fantasy. Which is fine, but the other things dragged it down for me.

In addition, this isn’t really my area, but I did notice a few warning signs. It’s not “own voices”, and it shows; it’s the typical flower-petals-and-beautiful-calligraphy version of Japan we keep getting served up, and several people from East Asia or of East Asian descent have been writing highly critical reviews about the racial stereotyping. I don’r know enough to really understand what’s going on there, but I believe people that it’s made them deeply uncomfortable.

That and the pacing meant I didn’t finish this, in the end. It’s a shame, because the cover is gorgeous, the concept sounds fun, and I did get somewhat into the relationship between the two characters. And yet. So my writing is very much for “as far as I read” — it’s possible the pace picks up and that issue at least is resolved. I wasn’t willing to hold my breath for it.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Harkworth Hall

Posted 16 September, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Harkworth HallHarkworth Hall, L.S. Johnson

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 1st August 2017

I picked up Harkworth Hall thanks to Bob @ Beauty in Ruins’ review; it sounded like a fun piece of Gothic romance with horror along the lines of William Hope Hodgson, rather than, say, Stephen King. All in all, pretty much up my alley — and even better, it features a relationship between two women (about which I’d better not say too much; Bob’s review already has a minor spoiler). I loved the women of the story: yes, they’re of their time, but they’re not completely circumscribed by the most strait-laced options available to women — Caroline has an independent streak, for one.

As for the horror aspect, it doesn’t go into that too much. It’s more of a sense of unease, of something uncanny, rather than all-out gore and cheap thrills (though there is a scene or two in which the threat is realised!).

I have just one quibble. At one point, two women are talking about being sensible, in the sense of being responsible and not rushing into danger, etc. Then one comments that they lack “sensibility”. Nooooo, that’s not what that word means! “Sensibility” is about appreciating and responding to emotion, not “being sensible” in our modern sense. Austen’s Sense and Sensibility is contrasting the two in its title, not pairing two like words.

That said, I’m looking forward to reading more of Caroline’s adventures, for sure.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – The Fire’s Stone

Posted 24 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Fire's Stone by Tanya HuffThe Fire’s Stone, Tanya Huff

It’s been ages since I first read this, but I’ve been meaning to get round to rereading it for ages, and I’m glad I finally did. The world itself isn’t particularly distinctive: wandering peoples, oppressive clans, magic which requires detachment from the world, royalty and court intrigue… but the characters are what make it shine for me. Chandra, Aaron and Darvish each have their faults, but together they make up a surprisingly strong team, compensating for each other’s faults — and not just easily or naturally, but by working at it and learning to rely on one another. Each has their own sadnesses and goals, and gradually they learn to come together and deal with it.

The relationship between Chandra and the other two is as important as their romantic relationship with each other; she’s not just a woman in the way of the guys getting together, as some people seem prone to viewing women in queer stories. Chandra is just as integral to their strength as either of the men.

I think the process of dealing with Darvish’s alcoholism is also well done. The reasons he drinks, and the reasons he stops; the way he tries to resist it and where he fails. All of it is sensitively done, to my mind, and felt real. Aaron’s struggle with his sexuality is one that is also, unfortunately, real; there’s plenty of people who’ll force themselves to stay in the closet because of fear of what society or particularly their families would say. And Chandra’s determination to remain independent, because attachment might blunt her powers — well, that feels real, too. (Think of the people who complain that a woman will be ‘distracted’ by having a partner and family…)

I enjoyed the book a lot, and it’s also nice that it’s a stand-alone. Not that I wouldn’t mind more of the trio’s adventures, but I feel that it’s unnecessary. The story is complete as a one and done. That’s kind of refreshing in a world of so. many. trilogies.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Machine

Posted 6 August, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Machine by Jennifer PellandMachine, Jennifer Pelland

I’ve been thinking about this for a while, and I’m still not quite sure what to say. Machine is a powerful exploration of body dysphoria, set in a world where your consciousness can be downloaded into a medical android body replacement, while your human body is cryo-frozen to prevent the progression of disease. It reflects on body dysphoria in general, of course, and it’s pretty inconclusive about the answer — should you modify, should you learn to live with it, how will people around you react…

There are parts of this which are frankly disturbing — the erotica parts didn’t interest me, obviously, but I actually found them actively discomforting even to skim past. That’s 100% intentional, and that’s obvious, so that’s not meant as a criticism. It’s just something you might want to bear in mind if you find the book interesting.

I found it difficult to believe in the central couple, whose separation sparks the whole plot. Rivka doesn’t seem like a great person, if she couldn’t even tell her wife that she wasn’t happy with the medical replacement body before she went through the whole procedure. Character-wise, no one really shines — even the main character’s closest friend and people who are sympathetic to her do stupid things which out her to the world (which is fairly anti-robot), things which I wouldn’t tolerate in a friend even in the less fraught environment nowadays for queer people.

It was interesting and powerful, but not something I was willingly emotionally involved in, or emotionally involved in for the reasons I’d usually enjoy. The ending… it was what I wanted, in a sense, but it felt like a cop-out as well. Consequences-be-gone.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Walking on Knives

Posted 10 July, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Walking on Knives by Maya ChhabraWalking on Knives, Maya Chhabra

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date is 26th July 2017

When the warning says “Walking on Knives contains some explicit content and a scene with dubious sexual consent”, it’s not kidding. I know there’s a whole debate about whether you can say consent is “dubious”, but I think I see why in this case — in both cases the characters explicitly consent, in pursuit of a goal, without actually wanting the sex itself.

Unfortunately, I’m not sure I buy any of the emotions here. It has the potential to be dark and twisty, but because I don’t believe in any of the love stories, it doesn’t work; it’s still too much in the fairytale style, with none of the characters named. Worse, it gets confusing between all the epithets; ‘the little mermaid’, ‘the sea-witch’, ‘the strange woman’… and then all the ‘she did this and she did that’. In the end, I just… nah.

Honestly, I feel most sympathetic toward the Prince. I wanted to root for the little mermaid and the sea-witch’s sister, but that didn’t feel real. The Prince’s conflict was the most real part of it, and I felt like he deserved more of an ending.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Trial by Fire

Posted 10 June, 2017 by Nikki in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Trial by Fire by Lore GrahamTrial by Fire, Lore Graham

Received to review via Netgalley; publication date 31st May 2017

This is a fun superhero novella which is supremely conscious of the need to include more diversity in fiction, and to be socially aware (e.g. of issues like people’s relationship with the police). The main character dates women, her love interest is trans, there are non-binary characters, etc, etc. It’s really refreshing that it didn’t really do a 101 on it, either; ‘here are the pronouns, the narrative is going to use them from here on out’ was the most you get. It’s also refreshingly frank about communication between couples, negotiating trans body issues (or non-issues), figuring out what people like… and even safe sex, as the use of a dental dam shows.

This is not my thing on one level, because I could happily go forever without knowing what genitalia anyone has, and I’m not that interested in reading sex scenes just for the sake of sex — sometimes it can be important to character development or express something interesting or make you re-evaluate the whole relationship between the characters… For example, I’m thinking of Jacqueline Carey’s Kushiel books — a lot of the sex scenes contain plot-important characterisation and even information. And when it comes to some characters/relationships, you’ve been waiting for it so long and it means so much for the characters that you can’t help but pay attention. But I’m not that interested in the mechanics, and I wasn’t invested enough in these characters to be particularly interested in the mere fact of them having fun sex, much as I appreciated the theme of clear communication.

If the fact that the story includes sex is a major nope for you, I can say that I think the scenes would be totally skippable without missing anything important; the rest of the story is fun, although relatively light on plot and heavier on the characters getting to know one another and getting together.

Rating: 3/5

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