Tag: queer fic

Review – The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo

Posted June 7, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of The Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo by Taylor Jenkins ReidThe Seven Husbands of Evelyn Hugo, Taylor Jenkins Reid

Whoa. I did not expect to be so wildly sucked into this book. I mean, a part of me might have expected it: it’s the kind of gossipy, dramatic book with Big Secrets that is designed to get its hooks in, and I’m as susceptible as anyone else.

Evelyn Hugo is a fictional Hollywood star. Think Elizabeth Taylor and Rita Hayworth. Her career is over now, but she’s a legend. She’s been enticing and entrancing people for years… and she wants rookie journalist Monique to write her biography. She’s going to tell her everything, under just a few conditions. Evelyn Hugo wants to tell the truth, even when it doesn’t paint her in the best light. And she’ll answer Monique’s questions in her own time.

I didn’t know much about this book until someone bought it for me in a Secret Santa book exchange, so I didn’t know what I was getting into… and it’s almost better if you don’t, if you’re into that tantalising question of what exactly Evelyn Hugo’s deal is. It doesn’t take long to get part of the answer, but if you want to be totally surprised, ignore my review and everyone else’s and go in completely fresh.

If those who don’t want spoilers have bailed out…

Let’s talk about the queer content. The big secret of Evelyn Hugo’s life turns out to be that she was bisexual and in love with another film star. Husbands came and went, with several of her domestic arrangements just providing cover for an on-again, off-again relationship. I don’t know if Reid is bisexual or how she identifies, but Evelyn’s voice and experience of bisexuality rang generally true to me as a queer person. The Hollywood setting provides a backdrop to Evelyn’s yearning and messing up and trying again when it comes to her secretive affairs with women. Or mostly just one woman, which is the bit that maybe rings less true for most people: Evelyn has sex with men frequently, and falls in love with some of them too, but when it comes to women we only actually see one attraction, one love.

Now that kind of rings true for me with some of the things she says early on about what sex and attraction mean to her. She has sex in a lot of cases because it’ll get her what she wants, not out of genuine connection; she seems to find real passion only once she’s made connections, once there’s some kind of relationship, and she only finds that with another woman once. She only lets herself find it once, maybe. But it still seemed a little odd.

When it comes to the relationship itself, the beats are familiar and not at all surprising: we can’t let anyone find out! We have to hide! We have to fake it with men! Oops, one of us actually slept with the man and now she’s pregnant! Break up! Make up! Secretttsss! It was a fun read, but I’m really side-eyeing anyone who calls it “groundbreaking”, especially when it comes to the queer content. It rings true, but it’s nothing we haven’t heard before. I’d have been more impressed if the two of them made a go of it without breaking up constantly, maybe?

There is also a whole racial side to the book when it comes to Monique Grant, who defines herself as “biracial”, and to Evelyn, who is Cuban and completely hides it to become a blonde bombshell. I don’t know what Reid’s experience is there, but to me these portrayals felt clunky. Monique literally says she “felt like two halves”; it feels like a cliché to me. There’s one moment that rings maybe a little more true, and that’s when Evelyn’s maid speaks Spanish in front of her totally without realising she can understand, and she realises she’s buried her Cuban identity so deep it’s disappeared… but this is not really a story I feel very familiar with and mostly I feel unqualified to comment on whether it’s representative of real experiences.

In both the sexuality and the racial content, though, it feels like accounts I’ve read before, like it’s been cut out with the same cookie-cutters as a whole bunch of other stories. There’s a reason the cookie-cutters are that shape, but the shapes produced are 2D.

I don’t know if that all makes sense, but it’s how I felt about the book.

The best thing about the book for me was Harry Cameron. He was Evelyn’s best friend, and there is something real and true in the way they protected each other, made things work for one another, made a family together. I would have loved this theme to be stronger — that there was no passion between them, but he was her true partner who stuck with her through everything, who made things work even when it was hard. Evelyn’s female partner and what they did for each other paled for me compared to the truth of two queer people sticking together to make things work, and being a family even when it doesn’t conform.

Evelyn herself… she’s a strong character, and there’s a lot to like and hate about her. Again, I wouldn’t say she’s a particularly groundbreaking character, and I called most of the twists and turns of her motivations and manipulations.

In the end, it was a fun read. I tore right through it. I don’t think it was the best book in the world and I wouldn’t call it profound, despite the evident effort to make us believe in a love that transcended Evelyn’s seven husbands, the real love of her life. The answer should’ve been Harry Cameron, and for me, it missed its mark in downplaying his importance.

It’s enormously fun, though.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Unfit to Print

Posted May 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Unfit to Print by K.J. CharlesUnfit to Print, K.J. Charles

I was feeling fidgety, so I decided to read for a book by K.J. Charles I hadn’t read yet. Unfit to Print is a standalone, following Gil Lawless and Vikram Pandey, the owner of a dirty bookshop and a high-flying lawyer, respectively. They knew one another at school, but have been separated for quite a long time, with Vik believing Gil to be dead. He’s looking for the son of a local Indian family, though, and that takes him to the street where Gil keeps his bookshop… and there they run into one another again.

Gil’s been hurt a lot and is as prickly as a hedgehog, while Vik’s not been interested in anyone since Gil’s disappearance from their boarding school. They quickly fall into their old intimacies, though Gil finds it hard to offer anything other than the physical and Vik finds it hard to take the physical aspect without the feelings getting in the way. At the same time, Gil needs to help Vik find out what happened to the boy he’s looking for, while trying not to get his reputation all smeared up for him…

It’s a lovely little second chance, and I quickly fell for both characters and their silly desperate attempts not to get hurt more when they’re already stumbling along with plenty of hurt to spare from their pasts. Their interaction smoulders as usual — holding hands was never so sexy — and it was a really fun read overall. The mystery aspect was a little bit perfunctory; it felt a bit of a letdown for the answer to be that easy, but it did make sense as well.

All in all, plenty of fun, though not for all the family!

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Princess Princess Ever After

Posted May 23, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Princess Princess Ever After by Kate O'NeillPrincess Princess Ever After, Kate O’Neill

Princess Princess Ever After is a short graphic novel which features a familiar fairytale trope (a princess in a tower)… with a few additions, such as the fact that another princess comes to rescue her, and the fact that her sojourn in the tower was of her own choosing (to some degree) thanks to her sister undermining her and making her feel worthless. The prince they come across needs help from them… and in the end, the two princesses get married!

It’s really really cute, and I appreciate Sadie’s anxieties and difficulties — Amira is completely kickass, but Sadie is strong in her own sweet soft way; they’re very different people and yet both strong. The art is cute too, and I want Amira’s haiiir. (Also I don’t, because long hair is a pain in the butt, but it looks cool.)

It is a bit expensive for how slight it is, but it’s full colour and beautifully presented, and suitable for quite young readers.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Miranda in Milan

Posted April 17, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 4 Comments

Cover of Miranda in Milan by Katharine DuckettMiranda in Milan, Katharine Duckett

I liked Miranda in Milan more than I expected from the reviews I saw around before I read it — I was curious, but not wildly interested, and mostly just picked it up now because I’m reading a lot of short fiction because that’s what’s working for my brain. And it turns out… I really liked it. I started reading it and figured I’d have to stop halfway through for work; halfway through, I damned work and carried on until I was finished.

It’s a semi-retelling, semi-sequel to The Tempest; a retelling because it plays with some of the facts and embellishes them, a sequel because it’s set after the play. It follows Miranda after she and Prospero return to Milan. The servants whisper about her, and she’s forced to wear a black veil to hide her face, but luckily a young Moroccan servant is happy to talk to her and explain things to her. They quickly become close, and this develops (fairly quickly) into a romantic relationship. I’m a little nonplussed by reviews feeling it came out of nowhere; I didn’t actually remember this was f/f, and was hoping for the romance to happen from the first hints of it.

It’s probably a good thing I read Jacqueline Carey’s Miranda and Caliban quite a while now, because the prose would suffer in comparison! As it is, I found it worked well for me: I wouldn’t say it’s going to stick in my head for beauty, but it succeeded in conjuring an atmosphere for me.

It all resolves a little simply and in the way I kind of expected, and I do appreciate the criticism that Prospero has no complexity and is basically a big evil bogeyman — though I also appreciated the way Miranda had to go over her memories and figure out where the lies and gaps were. It’s a little realistic hint of an abusive relationship that rang very true. Agata could have been just completely horrible, too, so I enjoyed that we got to see another side of her and understand a little of her bitterness and fear.

All in all, it worked really well for me; I thoroughly enjoyed it.

Rating: 4/5

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Review – Cinnamon Blade

Posted April 16, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Cinnamon Blade: Knife in Shining Armor by Shira GlassmanCinnamon Blade, Shira Glassman

There’s a lot to like about Cinnamon Blade: Cinnamon Blade herself is a cat burglar turned superhero who also happens to be Jewish and bisexual, and her background — and that of her more religiously observant best friend — are baked into the story in little ways. Her relationship with Soledad, a woman she has ended up rescuing again and again, is passionate and at the same time dorky and cute.

Unfortunately, I think maybe I just don’t quite get on with Shira Glassman’s writing, which just doesn’t do much for me… and I definitely didn’t work well with the jump-start the romance got, heading straight off into mildly kinky (public) sex and more or less staying there, with superhero interludes. I wanted more of the other stuff — Blade’s relationship with the team, for instance, because the little we got to see of Captain Werewolf (the aforementioned more religiously observant best friend) was pretty cool.

It has its moments, and it wasn’t a bad way to beguile a half hour, but not quite my thing either.

Rating: 2/5

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Review – Knit One, Girl Two

Posted April 12, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Knit One Girl Two by Shira GlassmanKnit One, Girl Two, Shira Glassman

Knit One, Girl Two is a short, low-stakes f/f romance. Clara’s into dyeing yarn, but she’s looking for inspiration for a new set of colours. She finds that inspiration in paintings by Danielle, a fellow Jewish woman, and Danielle is just as excited as she is by the chance to collaborate. They bond through the shared endeavour, which goes big time thanks to Danielle’s famous uncle, and a shared fandom. The only conflict in the novella is something that’s going on for Danielle, leaving her unable to paint and unhappy.

One thing I enjoyed a lot was how Clara dealt with hearing that something was going on for Danielle, via a rumour. She knows she can look it up… but she doesn’t, and instead sends a message to Danielle explaining that she knows something is happening, but she doesn’t want to pry. It’s a really cool and respectful way to go about it, which helped smooth over something I’d have found rather awkward.

The writing is fairly simple and matter-of-fact; the dialogue and descriptions didn’t really take off for me. It’s a cute story, and I’m so glad it’s out there providing f/f representation, Jewish romance, and low-stakes happiness… but I’m afraid it probably won’t stick with me. It’s a good companion for half an hour of reading, especially because it is low-stakes: things happen which you can care about, in the way you care about your friend’s latest drama or your sister’s work issues… but it tugs lightly on the heartstrings, rather than playing one of Paganini’s Caprices.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Provenance

Posted April 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Provenance by Ann LeckieProvenance, Ann Leckie

I loved Provenance the first time I read it, focusing on Garal Ket and somewhat on Tic Uisine as being particular awesome points. I also enjoyed the gender-neutral characters included as a matter of course, and seeing something from outside the Radch, from a human point of view. Also, getting some screentime (so to speak) for the Geck! It’s all pretty awesome, but this time all of it was a background to Ingray’s journey, for me. If you’re used to Breq, she’s a much less put-together main character, and we also may feel less close to her as it isn’t a first-person narrative. Nonetheless, her journey to true self-sufficiency — and her healing from some of the wounds of a childhood spent competing with foster siblings — is great.

The book opens with her disastrous attempt to have a neman returned from Compassionate Removal (a sort of prison planet). The captain of the ship she’s about to travel on refuses to take anyone on board who isn’t fully consenting and aware of their destination, so the neman is awoken right there in the dock… and says e is not the person Ingray thought she asking for. Nonetheless, she ends up offering em the fake identity she bought to take that person home, and e ends up accepting — and throwing in with her to scam her family into believing e is the person she was hoping to find. Then the Geck get involved…

It’s an interesting society, which includes some stuff quite casually — part of adulthood is deciding on your gender and choosing your adult name! there is a third, officially recognised neutral gender! Ingray has a lesbian romance with a friend! — which I really enjoy as a) setting this planet apart from the Radch or from our own Earth, and b) the inclusiveness. The idea of the importance placed in this society upon “vestiges”, physical remnants that have been touched by one’s ancestors, is an interesting way to build up the society, too. Ingray’s relationship with her mother and brother are interesting and sad and ultimately rather affirming: despite mistakes made in the past, they remain a family and find a way through it all.

It remains a very enjoyable book, and I ate it up the second time as swiftly as I did the first. That said, if you’re looking for more of the Radch, or for a character more like Breq, this isn’t going to scratch the same itch.

Rating: 5/5

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Review – Moontangled

Posted February 5, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of Moontangled by Stephanie BurgisMoontangled, Stephanie Burgis

Received to review via Netgalley

Moontangled is a novella in the Harwood Spellbook world featuring two of the minor characters: Miss Banks and Miss Fennell. If you don’t remember them, they’re the two who had a clandestine relationship while Juliana attempted to learn magic and Caroline attempted to become a high-flying politician. In this world, women do politics and men learn magic, and ideal partnerships for political women are with men who can do magic. Juliana is one of the first women to learn, and Caroline… well, she’s now in disgrace because of her mentor’s failings, and she thinks it’s time to end the relationship with Juliana before it brings her down.

I’m not a big fan of the kind of misunderstanding that drives this novella: just sit down and communicate, people. It’s not that difficult, I promise you. (As I frequently joke, I am the Relationship Advice Dalek: COMM-UN-I-CATE! COMM-UN-I-CATE!) There’s ample room for it in the letters they send each other, for goodness’ sake. It doesn’t help that it’s exactly the same kind of misunderstanding as in the previous books I’ve read in this world: “I’m going to do things to protect you, including end our relationship, regardless of what you might actually want and oh, wait, what do you mean you didn’t want what I thought you wanted?”

Still, even if their misunderstanding is completely daft, their care for each other is sweet. I found the plotline a little obvious, but it’s fun to watch it play out anyway. Highly original this isn’t, but a sweet escapist romance with a touch of magic? It delivers. I read it all in one gulp when I should probably have been doing something else; it doesn’t need to be more substantial than this.

Rating: 3/5

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Review – The Abyss Surrounds Us

Posted February 3, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 2 Comments

Cover of The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily SkrutskieThe Abyss Surrounds Us, Emily Skrutskie

I’ve had this on my TBR for a while, but it ended up as the pick for a book club read. So I plunged on in, and… accidentally read it in a day. It follows Cassandra Leung, who has been raised training kaiju Reckoners, big sea monsters that protect ships from pirates. She’s on her first solo mission at the start of the book when a pirate ship attacks, having already weakened their Reckoner; she’s recognised as a trainer by one of the pirates, who drags her on board their ship, the Minnow, to raise their very own illicitly-obtained Reckoner pup.

The pirate captain, Santa Elena, is skilled at pitting people against each other and using their feelings against them, and she quickly puts Cas’ wellbeing under the aegis of one of her protegés, Swift. If Cassandra fails, she dies… and so does Swift. The psychological set-up there is pretty good, and the way they have to work together and the enforced intimacy creates a bond between them which feels pretty real: it’s strong, but it’s confused and ambivalent as well.

The turnaround from Cassandra’s intentions at the beginning of the book to her actions at the end feels… a bit too fast. Sure, there’s a bit of Stockholm syndrome there, but it feels like Cassandra’s family have very little hold on her compared to Swift. Part of that is the fact that she’s crossed the point of no return, of course, but that capitulation felt too soon as well. Part of it is the pace of the book — it speeds along, and if you’re not paying close attention you can miss that weeks (perhaps months?) are passing as Bao (the Reckoner pup) grows.

I’m not totally sure how I feel about the ending and set-up for the next book; Swift and Cas’ relationship will be interesting, but I’m not sure about Cas’ motivations. At the same time, I hope it starts where it left off, with Cas sure of herself, because more vacillating now she’s supposed to have decided will be annoying. I’ve picked up the second book, so I guess I’ll see where it goes!

Rating: 3/5

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Review – Watchtower

Posted January 6, 2020 by Nicky in Reviews / 0 Comments

Cover of Watchtower by Elizabeth A. LynnWatchtower, Elizabeth A. Lynn

Oof, I was always so sure I’d love Watchtower, and yet when it comes to it I don’t know what to say. It felt like there was meant to be a lot going on under the surface, but I couldn’t see through it to what I was supposed to be connecting to and understanding. It opens with the aftermath of a battle: Ryke has survived, though the lord of the Keep has not, and he’s offered a chance to live and serve… and if he does, his prince will be kept safe. He agrees in order to save Errel, and ultimately contrives his escape after Errel has been thoroughly humiliated by being forced to be essentially a court jester. So far, so heard it all before.

And then he and Errel end up in a sort of… commune, where everybody pitches in and everybody learns to fight, only there’s also dancing, which Errel learns and Ryke won’t learn. Some things turn out the way you expect — actually, none of the actual plot surprised me, per se — but the relationships are what I think are what’s really being explored. Sorren and Norres (their names aren’t alike for any particular reason I can see) help Ryke and Errel escape, and the four become entangled in a weird web of trust, jealousy and confusion.

It doesn’t help that Ryke is obtuse and stubborn all along. At the end, I was left with a pretty powerful sense of melancholy: that aspect of the regret and confusion Ryke feels comes through solidly, but what anyone else feels and why is rather beyond me. Why Ryke’s so stubborn and stupid (except learned prejudice, which he displays fairly frequently) doesn’t really come through for me.

In the end, I’m not really intending to bother with the other Tornor books, on the strength of this; it’s interesting how casually queer it is (Sorren and Norres are women and in a committed relationship; there are people of non-binary gender presentation in the world, though it seems that’s by birth rather than choice), given the age of the book. That part of it hasn’t aged it at all.

It all feels deceptively simple, in a way that I think is intended and meant to create something with that melancholy regretful feeling. But it’s like trying to hold a handful of snow in the palm of a warm hand; it doesn’t last long, and it doesn’t stand up to any pressure — it won’t last in my mind, I don’t think. I’m glad I gave it a try, though.

Rating: 3/5

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