Book Review: Waking Up the Sun


Waking Up the Sun was a cute romance set in a dark yet enchanting forest where two people, the only two people in the forest, gradually fall in love with each other. 

My favorite part about this was the mental illness representation. The main characters panic attacks, combine with his description of his cycles of anxiety and depression, felt true and relatable. 

More importantly, both the main character and the narrative voice had a positive attitude towards medication. The main character had a potion that helped him manage his mental illness. When he was in the forest without it, he coped, but realized he did better with it, and took the initiative to make more of it. Once he was back on the medication, his symptoms were clearly easier to manage. They didn’t disappear, but they were more manageable, which made it feel very authentic.

I read so many stories where medication is portrayed in a negative light, that I was happy to see a book where it was shown as something helpful. 

I also enjoyed the forest setting. That, combined with the story itself, had a fairy-tale feel.

At times, the story and dialogue felt a little contrived to me, but I often find myself thinking that when I read romance. I wasn’t always as engaged with the voice as I wanted to be and I would have liked a little more tension or high stakes. 

Still, it was a nice relaxing read after a stressful week.  Waking Up the Sun is a good choice if you are looking for a calm, sweet fairy tale or something to help you unwind after a busy day.

Get your copy here.

Book Review: City of Ghosts

For the next couple of weeks, while I try to finish my own middle grade novel, I’m going to be on a paranormal middle grade reading spree. City of Ghosts is the second title I’ve read since I started and it was so much better than the first book I read off my middle grade list.

City of Ghosts had everything I look for in a book while still being accessible for younger readers. I think had I picked this up when I was twelve, I would’ve happily read the whole thing.

As far as characters go, Cass and Jacob won me over right away. I loved their friendship, how Cass was charging into danger while Jacob was warning her away. I loved his comic book obsession. I loved the tension created by introducing Lara to the  mix. The only issue I had with the characters was that I kept thinking they were a few years older than they actually were. I kept thinking Cass was fourteen or fifteen, not twelve.

A few times, the narrator broke the third wall and started talking like she was reflecting back on events. I’m thinking maybe part of why I kept thinking the character was older was because the narrative voice was supposed to be older than the character. I’m not a huge fan of narrators breaking the third wall to say “If I’d known…” but there was so much else to love about the book that I can deal with it.

On the surface, on the sentence level, this book was a work of art. Schawb wrote sentences that were beautiful while still keeping them accessible for a younger reader. She didn’t dumb the language down like some middle grade authors, but didn’t make it overly complicated or wordy like some adult authors do.

I was able to picture every little detail of the city without getting bored or bogged down. The description of the setting and its history made me want to go and visit Edinburgh.

The involvement of Cass’ parent’s was a nice touch. They were entertaining and they actually cared about her. At times, they helped the reader better understand Cass. At other times, they created more tension.

I’m really looking forward to the sequel, and might buy my ten-year-old cousin a copy of City of Ghosts for her birthday.

Book Review: Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll


I requested Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll on NetGalley because I’m currently writing a middle grade horror story, and I haven’t read much middle grade this years. Last year, when I listened to the audio book of Doll Bones, I remembered why I read books in that age category even though I was an adult.

I had been hoping Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would be as magical, spooky, and enthralling as Doll Bones was. Unfortunately, it didn’t come close.

The concept, a haunted doll that cursed people who were rude or didn’t ask permission to take its picture, was great. There was plenty of suspense and tension. After taking a picture without permission and insulting the doll, bad and scary things kept happening to Al, and they gradually got worse as the book went on.

The problem was that Al was very flat as a character. Maybe some kids reading this book would be okay with that. Others would get bored. When I was in elementary school, I was a very reluctant reader. Eventually, it was finding books with fascinating characters that made me fall in love with reading. As a kid, a book like Doll Bones might have held my attention because of the well developed characters. Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll would have bored me.

I did like the lesson it taught about consent. I know that word often has sexual connotations, but consent is important with other things too. It’s important in all aspects life whether it is taking pictures, kissing, borrowing things, or playing. In today’s society and political climate, it is especially important for boys to learn about consent.

A book where a boy takes a picture without consent, is punished for it, realizes he was wrong, and apologizes, is valuable even if the character was dull and didn’t grow in any other way.

I didn’t like Curse of the Dead-Eyed Doll enough to order it for my cousins’ kids, but I appreciate the suspense and the lesson it taught.

Book Review: Once and Future

I’ll keep this review short. 

Once and Future is my favorite book I’ve read in 2019. Once I started reading it, I couldn’t  put it down. I read the whole thing in one day and really wish the sequel was already out.

Concerning the plot and concept, it reminded me of two of my favorite no longer running TV shows: BBC’s Merlin and Firefly. The world had a bit of a dystopian flare, reminiscent of Hunger Games and Feed.

There were spaceships, unchecked capitalism, sketch government cover ups, and hereos resisting cooperate villains.

Once and Future had just the right balance of goofy, darkness, action, and romance.

And all the characters were queer. One POV character was pan. Another was gay. There was a gender fluid side character with they/them pronouns. Another side character was ace.  This book had all the LGBTQIA rep.

The crew was full of personality!

I have zero complaints about the characters, plot, or ending. Even though this was a retelling, I was never quite sure what was going to happen next!

The only flaw I noticed was one I didn’t think of until a few days after I finished reading . The world building, on the science fiction side, lacked detail and explanation. So if you are someone who wants to know how the space travel and the terraforming and whatnot works, then you might have a problem with this aspect of it.

I had no problem ignoring those holes and just taking everything at face value. This was more science fantasy than science fiction anyway. After all, there was magic.

And really, I was in it for the characters and the adventure, not the technical side of the world building, so I’m still giving it five stars.  

Go read Once and Future now!

Book Review: The Sisters of the Winter Wood

Back in January, I was browsing my favorite bookstore and came across The Sisters of the Winter Wood. I’d heard about and seen this book on Twitter and couldn’t resist buying it even though I had gone in to pick up a different book that I had special ordered. I never leave a book store with just the one book I went in for.

This one was definitely a good impulse buy.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is about two sisters, Liba and Laya, discovering who and what  they truly and how their identities affect their relationship as sisters. Liba’s chapters are told in prose, while Laya’s are in verse. Not only did this keep me alert as a reader, but it also ensured I never got confused about who the narrator was.

Considering how in the author’s note, Rena Rossner, says this was in-part a retelling of Goblin Market, that format was a great choice for this book. Like Laya, the verse chapters were airy and musical. Like Libba, the the prose chapters were more grounded and earthy.

This book’s greatest flaw was it’s beginning. The first page or two were fascinating. The next 50 or 60 pages were stuffed with telling and exposition. Very little happened.  I am the type of person who likes to read books almost straight through. On Tuesday night, I put this book down around 10 p.m. and went to sleep. I didn’t pick it up again until Friday because at that point, not enough had happened for me to get truly invested in the characters.

The beginning also fell into a trap that a lot of historical fantasy does. It goes a little overboard with the world building, especially when it comes to the gender within the period and place. It was great that eventually, a lot of the men turned out to be decent people, but there was so much emphasis on gender roles and relations in the beginning that I thought all the men were going to be a lot worse, and honestly, a lot of build up t really didn’t seem relevant by the end.

It was 100% worth slogging through the begining to get to the rest of the book. The tension and growth between Liba and Laya was fantastic. They each had their own delicious romantic subplot with someone they didn’t think their parents would approve of, and I wasn’t quite sure how it was all going to work out.

The dark, cold, forest setting was as enchanting as the goblins and shifters haunting it. And once we were past that initial info dump, there was a perfect blend of history and magic.

I learned a lot about Jewish culture of the time and place the book was set it, which according to the author’s note, was on the border of Ukraine and Moldova around 1904. The building antisemitism in the town, and the way it hurt the characters, was a tangible thing. It made me uncomfortable times, but in a necessary way. Scenes where characters are being harassed or slurred at are supposed to make a reader uncomfortable. If they don’t, something is wrong.

The Sisters of the Winter Wood is a beautiful novel filled with magic, tension, darkness, and plenty of opportunities to learn. I highly recommend it.

 

Book Review: Cthulhu Blues

I finally got around to reading Cthulhu Blues, the third installment in the Spectra Files trilogy.

It was refreshing to read a book set New England. Many of the books I’ve read lately have either been set on the West Coast or in the rural midwest. While I do enjoy reading about places I’ve never been, especially in the Pacific Northwest, I also like to see my corner of the US represented in novels.

Another thing I like about Cthulhu Blues is the mental health representation. Becca’s depression always seems well described, and I appreciate how the narrative doesn’t shy away from talking about how Becca’s meds and therapy help her. This is something I rarely see in speculative fiction.

Becca’s love for photography, cargo pants, and her dog is another thing that allows me to connect with her. Django is a faithful, intelligent four-legged sidekick, is the only character in the book that I like more than her. While there were a few times I worried about him, he always makes it through okay.

The other characters are well developed, but Becca and Django are why I read the series.

This series is labeled as horror, but it feels like dark urban fantasy to me. Yes, there are cosmic, tentacles monsters, but they’re not any scarier than beasts one encounters when reading The Dresden Files or The Mortal Instruments.

One thing that annoys me a little is how the narration will start out wide and distant. A chapter will have an omniscient tone in the beginning, then it will zoom into close third one Becca or another character. While it does give the book an interesting tone, it slows things down and keeps me away from my favorite character. Sometimes I’m tempted to do things like this in my own writing. However, when I find myself getting annoyed at it in a book like this, I understand why I shouldn’t start chapters that way.

The end seemed abrupt and left me a little confused. The book really needed one more chapter, or at least an epilogue, to really wrap things up and make it feel complete. I understand not wanting to drag it out, but when ending a series, it is important to really bring everything to a close.

Click here to buy a copy of Cthulhu Blues.

Book Review: Nonbinary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity

Disclaimer: I received a free copy of this from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. Because the topic was so meaningful, this review contains more reflection on my own experience and identity than I typically include in my reviews.

I often think I live in multiple words: Real life, the Twitterverse, and the fictional worlds of all the stories I write. In real life, very few people I know truly understand the concept nonbinary. In my bubble of the Twitterverse, I interact with all kinds of writers and artist who use gender neutral pronouns and identify as something other than man or woman. I love the LGBTQ+ community I’ve found online, but I have made little to no effort to seek similar people in real life because I question if I really belong there since I’ve never been in or tried to be in a same-sex relationship.

Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity showed me that I am not the only Non-Binary person who has wondered what communities they really belong in. While there was no one memoir where I thought, “this person story is just like mine” many of the stories echoed and validated different aspects of my existence and opened my eyes to how varied the non-binary experience is.

And really, it probably would’ve bothered me if someone’s experience had been almost exactly like mine because part of my identity has always been that I am odd and unique.

Each essay was beautifully written, honest, and engaging. I don’t remember a single moment where I got bored. Even the introduction held my attention.

One of my favorite things about this book was that it included voices from all across the spectrum of nonbinary people.

In my internet bubble, the most visible nonbinary people are like me: white and were assigned female at birth (AFAB). Many, but not all, are middle class or close to it. Me and many of the authors in this book agreed that this is the most visible portion of the non-binary spectrum, but it only represents a small portion of nonbinary people

Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity not only included people like, but it also boosted the voices of those who were assigned male at birth (AMAB). It included people of color– Black, Asian, and Latinx authors.

Some essays touched on sexuality, but others didn’t. While many of the authors in this book once identified as butch lesbians, I was happy to see some, who like me, never were attracted to CIS people who shared the same assigned gender. This is one of the things that always makes me question whether or not my identity is valid. However, reading the essays in Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity that echoed this experience reminded that my non-binary identity is still valid, and it is not at all related to my sexuality.

Because of the range of experiences encompassed in this book, I think most nonbinary people will be able to see echoes of themselves and their experiences show up in this book.

However, I think it is something I hope is widely read by CIS people, by people who identify with the gender they were assigned at birth. Each narrative is crafted in a way that will show CIS readers what it means to be non-binary.

When I started reading Non-Binary: Memoirs of Gender and Identity, I was almost certain it would be something I could assign for my students to read. However, like most collections of essays, there is too much on the same topic to read in one semester. No matter how good the writing is, a whole book of essays on the same topic always seems to result in my students losing interest before we get to the end, and if I were to assign the book and only read a portion of the essays, they would complain about having spent money on a book we only used part of. The later might not be an issue if I could get them to see the value of the book, so using it isn’t fully out of the equation yet.

No matter who you are, if you want to learn more about what it means to be non-binary, please buy and read this book.

Book Review: Empire of Light

I received a free copy of Empire of Light from the author, Alex Harrow, in exchange for a fair and honest review. Empire of Light was an action packed read that was challenging to review without giving away, but I think I’ve manage to come up with something spoiler free.

There was no shortage of action in this book. There were gun fights, fist fights, explosions, and even some of the steamy scenes were a little violent (because the mc and his love interests were into that). Sometimes in books, big action sequences can get confusing, but I didn’t have any trouble with these. The blocking was clear and well executed. I never lost track of who was who and where everyone was.

The downside to all the action was that it distracted me from the characters. Despite all the excitement, I was at least third of the way into book before I really became invested in the characters. They were so busy fighting, never coming up for air, that it was hard to see past their snark, outer shells, and shooting skills to see what growth they needed and were experiencing.

Once I was half way through the book, I couldn’t put it down. When Damian had lost so much and had his back against the ropes and was forced to rest a little because of the injuries that kept battering his body, then I finally got to know and like him a little more. Despite the ease with which killed people and a high tolerance for gore, he was a complex character who grew and matured throughout the book.

The rest of the cast was fascinating, but because of all the action, I felt like I didn’t get to spend quite enough time with them. A lot of these fascinating side characters die, so I guess not getting too invested in them was a blessing, otherwise I would’ve gotten grumpy at the book right around when I ended up getting more invested in it.

I was a little concerned with how violent some of them were towards people they cared about. It seemed standard for the Shadows to beat each other up when they got mad at each other and snippets of flashback and backstory showed their leader/mother figure beating them up when they made mistakes. However, their almost pirate-like status seems to give permission to this and make it acceptable to readers. I don’t necessarily have a problem with it as sometimes I write characters like this too. It just makes me think about what kind of violence and abuse readers tolerate in certain kinds of settings.

The plot and setting were not quite what I expected, but they were still good. Harrow had described this as a gay Firefly with magic, but I found Empire of Light  had little in common with Firefly. Empire of Light  was more dystopian than space western. Still, the plots, assassination attempts, rescue missions, and the romance were well executed and  nicely built to the end and I could never quite predict what was going to happen next. I just knew that no one was going to give up, and that there would be plenty more explosions.

The city Empire of Light  was set in was fascinating and very much a character in the story, though until a few  hints near the end of the book, I was wondering what was in the world beyond this two sided city, where the food came from, and where things were manufactured because the wealthier people in this story did seem to have new things. Because this world was so interesting, I wanted a few clearer hints about the bigger picture of it.

There was a love triangle in this book. I’m not generally a fan of these because they never end well, but I really didn’t mind this one and it was wrapped in a far less painful way than most other love triangles. I actually kind of liked this one.

This may sound like a lot of criticism for a four star review, but in spite the problems I pointed it out, I really did enjoy Empire of Light  and suspect the sequel (assuming there is one) will be even better.

If you are looking for a dark future with plenty of action, a side of romance, and a glimmer of hope, buy your self a copy of buy your self a copy of Empire of Light  .

Book Review: A Blade So Black

A Blade so Black is my new favorite Wonderland story! Instead of simply regurgitating a version of Lewis Carroll’s tale or taking elements of it and twisting them into something far more gruesome, it’s more of a “what happened way later” type of story blended with what I’ve come to think of as classic YA urban fantasy tropes.

Yes, certain tropes are used a lot in YA urban fantasy, but those tropes are what made me fall in love with YA to begin with. As long as the characters are fresh and the plots mix things up enough, I have no problem with tropes.

In A Blade so Black , the two main  tropes are we get tough 17-year-old girl learning to fight  monsters after nearly getting eaten by one and getting a crush on her supernatural mentor who is way older than any human but the age difference is tolerable because the mentor looks young, and his age is sort of rendered irrelevant anyway because it exceeds anything a human could live to. Like Tithe meets City of Bones, but instead of  demons and faeries, there is a world and beings drawn out of / inspired by Lewis Carroll’s tales.

I loved the balance between showing Alice tough and vulnerable. She was competent fighting monsters, but not so competent that I didn’t feel the need to worry and root for her at times.

When she first saw one of the nightmares, I was thrilled that she didn’t automatically assume she was having some kind of psychotic break. It didn’t take her very long to accept it was real and not a literal nightmare.

At first, the crush on Hatta annoyed me, but then it grew on me as Hatta became more complex of a character.

The plot was less predictable than I thought it was going to be — a couple things actually surprised me.

A Blade so Black wasn’t a “so intense I must read the whole thing in one sitting book” but not every book has to be.  Had half stars been a thing on Amazon and Goodreads, I might have called this 4.5 instead of 5, but they aren’t, so I just rounded up.  Plus, I liked this better than the last two Wonderland adaptations I read. The characters and pacing were much better than Gregory Maguire’s After Alice, and the world was far less disturbing than Christina Henry’s Alice. 

I’m looking forward to the sequel.

Book Review: The Seeds of Dissolution.


In The Seeds of Dissolution William C. Tracy does a fantastic job weaving the Dissolution universe together. Every little detail of the world the story took place in was so real and flushed out that it felt like it could be coexisting with reality right now.

The diversity of species and their genders was my favorite aspect of world building. Not all creatures in the universe were limited to binary genders like humans. Some had third genders. Some were genderfluid, switching back and forth between not two but four pronouns.

The whole concept of seeing symphonies and using them to manipulate things like sound, wood, bodies, and even space was also fascinating. I haven’t read a book with a magic (?) system quite like it. I added the question mark because the people who use the symphonies think of themselves as scientist, though to Sam, who is new to the world, and a reader like me, it seems like magic.

As far as characters go, I could relate to Sam and his anxiety. I think we are triggered by the same things. Even though my sometimes anxiety manifests in different ways, Sam’s really seem authentic.

However, I thought the message the book sent about medication bordered on dangerous. Sam’s brief mentions of it were about how it made him feel were negative. It sounded like he was given some kind of sedative — one type of medication used to treat anxiety, and that had tarnished his opinion of all medication.

It’s okay to have one character with that opinion, but then the one who was a psychologist looked down on the idea of medicating anxiety, though in her case, she used the symphonies, not pills, to treat Sam. She called it a bandaid, and its effects reminded me of self-medicating with alcohol so I didn’t have panic attacks at a wedding.

Numbing anxiety with alcohol is a bandaid. Most doctors and psychologist I’ve met see medication is a tool. It should take the edge off of anxiety so a person can get to the root of its cause and learn how to properly cope with it. This perspective was not offered, and I don’t think there was any acknowledgement of the fact that not every anxiety treatment makes everybody feel the way Sam described.

If I had read this book back when I was in my teens or early twenties, it would’ve added fuel to my resistance to medication — something I needed to get my anxiety under control — something I wish I had tried sooner.  

The saving grace with this book’s portrayal of treating anxiety is that it painted talk therapy in a positive light.

This above issue was really the only problem I had with The Seeds of Dissolution, and is the only reason I gave it four stars, not five. Everything else was fantastic!

I loved the dynamic between Rilan and Origon! There personalities were different but compatible, and the tension between them has me hoping something happens between them at some point in the series.

And the twins. They are adorable, and so is their relationship with Sam.

The plot had a slow build at times, but in a good way.  I never lost interest. I had time to linger with the characters while they struggled, triumphed, and failed. Not every story needs to hurtle ahead at breakneck speed, and with The Seeds of Dissolution, the pacing and the story were a perfect match.

If you are looking for a book with secondary world setting and a wide range of LGBTQ+ rep, then check out the The Seeds of Dissolution.