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: 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.

Book Review: The Year of the Knife

A few months ago, Meerkat Press had giveaway running: sign up for their newsletter and get a free ebook. I signed up and got a copy of The Year of the Knife  It sat on my kindle for a while, on my growing list of things to read. After a big stretch of reading YA, I finally wanted to read something “adult” again, so I picked up this. I started it just before dinner and finished a little after midnight. I loved the explosive magic, a hard boiled lesbian witch main character, and the fast paced plot with a mostly well set up twist.

The magic system in the book was my favorite kind.It had well established rules, limits and costs, and an almost mathematical set up, but the way the author showed it on paged in a way that didn’t bore me with the technical details of actually showing all the calculations. There would be a sentence or two more focused on what was going through Sully’s head while she did calculations, but the reader didn’t actually see the numbers or symbols.  

Speaking of the main character, Sully, is quite the badass. If you ever read the Dresden Files, picture if Harry Dresden and Karin Murphy were actually one character only more Irish and queer.

Throughout the book, Sully is following a string of murders where victims don’t stay dead. The middle of the book, when Sully is knee deep in zombies and demons, was my favorite part. Sully was strongest when her back was against the ropes and she was grasping for leads. 

The opening wasn’t fantastic, but it did its job. It showed Sully’s strength and battle madness with one serial killer hunt, set something up for the end, and then introduced the case shortly after. 

I was a little disappointed that the one non-binary character, the only character with a they/them pronoun, was in the book for a few pages then died.

There were frequent mentions of the sexism the Sully faced, but it never seemed to affect her much, and just seemed there for the sake of being there.

Most pieces of the twist and the end were well set up for, but a couple things seemed a little too convenient, and one thing I was expecting never happened, even though a few things early on almost promised me it would. Still, there are two more books in the series, so perhaps some of the breadcrumbs left uneaten are just setting up for things yet to come. I’m willing to wait and see.

I really am looking forward to the next installment in this series, which comes out later this year. 

So if you read Year of the Knife now, you won’t have too long to wait!

Book Review: The Disasters

The Disasters  is a treasure. After the last future-set, sci-fi book I read, The Disasters was like a breath of fresh air.  The Disasters had  a narrative kept me glued to kindle, only taking a breaks to do necessary things like eat, use the bathroom, and walk the dog until the book was done.

Thankfully, I’m a fast reader, and this was a fast book (in a good way).  

So, what is the story?

A group of teens who just failed out of an elite space academy survive a attack that takes out their classmates, flee the system, and fight to stop the terrorists from killing more people.

Said group of teens is pretty awesome.

The narrator, Nax,  is a bi pilot coping with anxiety from a wreck he was in a few years ago. I loved seeing how he decided to say things that made him seem like a classic, cocky, hotshot pilot while being very scared and insecure.  I was rooting for him from the start, and loved his interactions with a crew that was diverse in terms of gender, sexual orientation, race, and nationality.

Terrorist attack aside, this future was super optimistic.

For the most part, humans weren’t fighting each other. There was peace on Earth and in the “the colonies.” Most people were getting along…except for this one group that wanted to kill everyone…but that group was a small portion of the population. Most groups got a long way better than they do today.

The word “colonies” made me cringe a little the first time I saw it on the page, however, it’s un-inhabited planets, not cultures and people, that are being colonized. This universe is similar to the one Firefly was set in, where humans have found habitable worlds and terraformed others to make them habitable, but have not yet discovered other sentient life in the galaxy.

I also loved how the book handled diversity. It wasn’t about diversity. It wasn’t about being bi, muslim, trans, black, gay, white, or straight. It was about teens trying to save the galaxy. Their identities were part of them, added richness to their personalities, made them unique, and made them feel real. The book gave me hope that one day, things like racism, transphobia, islamophobia, and  homophobia will be things of the past. This future is the kind I seek out in science fiction.

I’ve read books like this before, that do all the amazing this one does, but most of them have been from small presses. I’m happy to see that larger publishing houses are finally catching on.

Next time you are in the mood for some great science fiction,  read The Disasters! 

A Brief Review of Undertow

Undertow (Port Lewis Witches, #2)Undertow by Brooklyn Ray

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received an advanced release copy of this from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.

Undertow, the second installment in the Port Lewis Witches Series, was as beautifully written as the first book, however, I didn’t love it as much as I loved Darkling. The prose and plot and were great. However, I didn’t connect with Liam as much as I did Ryder. It’s not fault of the writers — Ryder and Liam are just different people, and Ryder was the one I engaged with more.

On with the review.

If you’ve read Darkling, than expect the same lyrical writing filled with lush imagery and stormy emotion.

The plot is the good kind of slow. It’s followed a clear path and while I was on it, I had an idea of where it might be going, but I wasn’t really sure until I saw it all play out. It definitely added depth to Liam’s character, closed one chapter of his relationship with Ryder and began a new one.

Zooming out to the bigger picture, I am more fascinated by the circle now than I was with the last book. I love seeing how they grapple with their friendship. They’re young but not children; they’re testing their power and their responsibilities figuring their place in the universe, and they still have a lot figuring to do.

I’m looking forward to the next installment.

View all my reviews

Book Review: ECHO Campaign

ECHO Campaign (The Isolation Series #2)ECHO Campaign by Taylor Brooke

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

ECHO Campaign is the second installment in the Isolation Series. A twisty plot, beautiful prose, and a ton of tension made this book fly by.

In the first book, Omen Operation, the characters were on the run. In Echo Campaign, they’re caught, adapting to life in and plotting to get out of a secret training facility. I felt like I was trapped in the facility with characters, but no matter how things got for the characters, even in the darkest pages of this book, there was beauty lurking in the heartbreak and shadows.

Every character is oozing with emotion. Every interaction was loaded with tension.

I am usually good a predicting plots and twists, but I kept finding myself surprised thinking, “I didn’t see that coming.”

Aside from explosive rage, I have little in common with these characters. For example: I kept thinking things like “how can people touch each other so much? Does anyone have that much sex?” I didn’t see myself much in this book, but I’m kind of an anomaly anyways. I seldom relate to characters in books. I still enjoy them. If I’m reading a well written book like this, it doesn’t matter if I see myself in the characters or not. The writing transports me into their mind. The details connect me to the characters and make me root for them.

The one flaw that jumped out at me was the size of the cast. I kept mixing up who some of the characters were. Brooklyn and Gabriel were always clear. While Porter and Dawson had different backgrounds, sometimes I’d forget which name belonged to which backstore though I remembered quick enough after a sentence or two with a name in it. The other omens blurred together when I read. Maybe they wouldn’t have if I had read slower.

There was too much suspense to read slower.

Haven’t read Omen Operation yet? Make sure you do before diving into ECHO Campaign!

Book Review: Omen Operation

There is a lot to love about Omen Operation, and a few little things that bugged me.

The plot was exciting — a group of young adults (main character is about 19) break out of a secret camp where they were training to fight back against a viral outbreak / apocalypse that never happened.  On the run, the group learns who was really training them and why. While that is all going on, their feelings for each other get messy and tangled.

I enjoyed the pacing — burst of action interspersed between lulls of character development and making out. It kept me turning the page while leaving plenty of time to get to know the characters.

There was a good sized cast. The main character was strong and and angry and beautifully flawed — just the kind of person I wanted to root for through the book. The other characters were similar with their own quirks, but I had a hard time keeping track of all of them at some points in the book, which surprised me because the pacing was steady, not rushed. Even though there were definitely a few moments where I mixed a couple of the side characters, it didn’t detract too much from the overall experience.

This may seem like a small thing, but what bothered me most about those book was the idea of vaccines being used to infect people with a “virus.” Getting into too much detail about what happened in the book will spoil it, so I’ll refrain from summarizing it. However, I get antsy about anything (fiction included) that might add fuel to the anti-vaxxer movement.

Brooke’s prose were gorgeous as always, and they manage to convey more emotion in one page than I could express in a year. Ok, maybe I’m exaggerating about my lack of emotional whatever. But the point is they are a master at writing raw, angsty emotions onto the page.

Combine that emotion with some action, tangible tension, and a cliff hanger, and you get a reader who can’t wait to pick up the next book. 

Click the image to find Open Operation on Amazon, or click here to preview the kindle version.

Book Review: Ruin of Stars

Ruin of Stars (Mask of Shadows, #2)Ruin of Stars by Linsey Miller

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I received a free electronic copy of Ruin of Stars, the sequel to Mask of Shadows, in exchange for an honest review.

Mask of Shadows was good, but Ruin of Stars is still ten times better.

The plot in Ruin of Stars was complex and nuanced. It didn’t follow a trope like it’s predecessor; it was more completely driven by the characters wants and what got in their way.

Sal’s drive for revenge has aligned with the needs of the queen, so Sal is sent out to kill the rest of the people on their list. In the process, Sal encounters betrayals, loses someone they care about, and discovers something that changes their world. Being any more specific than this will give too much away and ruin the book. Reading through it was like untangling a tight not — difficult at times, but so satisfying when it was done.

As I read, my understanding of my favorite characters grew deeper and more complex. They had me rooting for them, hating them, and crying for them, sometimes all at once.

The prose were well crafted and lyrical, making the feelings and emotions of these characters so clear I could almost feel themself. I always appreciate writers who can do this because it is one of the things I struggle with most when it comes to my own writing.

More detail was giving to the politics of the world in this book than in Mask of Shadows. That helped me understand some of the hatred and the motives for it that motivated several characters, including Sal. Erland culture was definitely explored in more detail, including not so subtle descriptions about appearance and ideology that made me think of the Erland lords as Nazi-inspired.

All the descriptions of being gender fluid and of how it felt when society doesn’t acknowledge that rang true to me. Like Sal, I’m “fluid” and “in-between.” At times, I felt the explanations of Sal’s gender identity and of other characters’ gender identities and sexualities to be a little too heavy handed. At some points, the description of it seemed to overpower other aspects of the story, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing.

I may have been reading thinking “obviously, that is a valid identity,” but I forget that there are probably ten times as many readers who know very little about not really being a man or a woman, but something in between. In my own work, critique partners and beta readers have said I don’t explain it enough, so what seems like too much for me may not be for the readers who need to read and learn from this book.

For once, I was actually surprised by the ending. Just when I thought I knew exactly how it would turn out, something changed, and I think the epilogue was best part. But I won’t spoil it — so pre-order the book, and read it as soon as you can.

Haven’t read Mask of Shadows yet? Check out my review of it here.

 

A few words about “Butter is Not a Dress”

I don’t write a lot of poetry, and I only share a fraction of what I do write. Every once and a while, I come up with a piece I am very proud of. One of those pieces is featured in this anthology.

When speaking with people, I struggle to express my gender identity and how I’ve always felt like I inhabited some space between man and woman. This poem explores that in the context of how it affects the way I dress, and the internal struggle I go through every time I change my clothing.

You can buy the paper back and kindle version on Amazon if you are interested in reading it along with other poems and stories.

 

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