REVIEW #73 | NON-BINARY LIVES by Jos Twist, Ben Vincent, Meg-John Barker, & Kat Gupta

Title: Non-Binary Lives: An Anthology of Intersecting Identities

Editors: Jos Twist, Ben Vincent, Meg-John Barker, & Kat Gupta

Pub. Date: 21 April 2020

Synopsis:

What does it mean to be non-binary in the 21st Century?

Our gender identity is impacted by our personal histories; the cultures, communities and countries we are born into; and the places we go and the people we meet. But the representation of contemporary non-binary identities has been limited, until now.

Pushing the narrative around non-binary identities further than ever before, this powerful collection of essays represents the breadth of non-binary lives, across the boundaries of race, class, age, sexuality, faith and more.

Leading non-binary people share stories of their intersecting lives; how it feels to be non-binary and neurodiverse, the challenges of being a non-binary pregnant person, what it means to be non-binary within the Quaker community, the joy of reaching gender euphoria.

This thought-provoking anthology shows that there is no right or wrong way to be non-binary.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • misgendering
  • ableism
  • transphobia

Representation:

  • an anthology that explores being non-binary and how it interacts with other parts of the authors’ identities (religion, ethnicity, race, disability, etc.)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

I have been staring at my screen trying to figure out how to put my feelings into words, and. I don’t think I can do them justice. But I’ll try my best.

Non-Binary Lives is a collection of essays from various non-binary folks from mostly the UK, but other parts of the world as well. In these essays, they describe their experiences with being non-binary, especially with how it interacts with other parts of their identity and culture. While there could be some overlap between themes, each essay had a distinct feel to it as each author discussed their own lived experiences.

I truly do not know where to start with this essay collection. This book made me feel seen in a way no other book has. There were so many authors whose experiences did not match up perfectly to mine (basically all of them, let’s be honest), but they still felt and thought things about their non-binary gender that I have, and I have such a softness in my heart right now. For transparency’s sake, I just finished the book an hour ago, and I’m trying to write the review now because if I don’t, I don’t think I ever will. If I can’t write anything down now, I don’t think there will ever be an opportunity for me to write about how this book settled into my heart, into my being, like very few books have before.

And that’s what Non-Binary Lives has done: taken up space in my heart and settled in for the long haul. To read an entire anthology about people who share an identity with you is incredibly freeing and validating, and reading it made me incredibly soft. Just thinking about buying a physical copy (…whilst on a spending ban, lmao) is making me tear up.

If that weren’t enough, I just learned so much about different things? There was an essay with two twins who were born and raised in Malta, and I learned a little bit about the country and its politics. I learned about being a Quaker from another essay, whose author is a Quaker. I learned from a number of the contributors about how, in different ways, their counseling practice is affected by their gender.

That last point — about counseling? — yeah, I want to expand on that. Not only do I feel validated because of my gender, but I also feel validated because of the surprisingly large number of counselors that contributed to the anthology. For those of you that don’t know, I am a graduate student studying clinical mental health counseling. I want to become a counselor, and I eventually want to work with the LGBTQ+ community specifically. However, before this, I wasn’t really sure what I would do or how I would go about doing it to begin with. I was worried it was too niche, and that I would have to “settle” on doing something else that would still be fulfilling, just not as much.

Those counselors that spoke about their practices? They helped with that. Even though they work in England, I felt validated and that there is space in the mental health profession for my passion and work. It has motivated me to reach out to a faculty member at my school that does similar work and ask about resources and tips. And at the end of the day? It made me feel seen as a genderqueer future counselor. It has given me hope about what my future will bring.

I literally have nothing else of substance to add to this review unless y’all want incoherent screaming, so to end this, I want to give you a few quotes that have struck a cord with me.

What does it mean to “pass”? To “pass” places the burden of intelligibility on the person who seeks to “pass”: if we are not interpreted correctly, it is because we have failed to make our meaning clear. I reject that. I reject that there is one meaning that we can make of our bodies. I reject that we have such a degree of control over the ways in which people interpret us. I reject the implication that failure to be read — failure to be seen — is our fault. Instead, all we can offer is ourselves.

Non-Binary Lives

It is both terrifying and exciting, like plunging into a swirling galaxy of other lives, an array of lives not your own but which you temporarily inhabit. Like trying on new clothes, like acting a part, like conducting some kind of grand social experiment in perception. Which “I” am I today? It is both freedom and recklessness and danger and love, love, love for every life you could have led.

Non-Binary Lives

We cannot think of gender as a linear concept with masculinity and femininity as opposing poles. Instead, I think we can conceive of gender as a galaxy, with each person determining their own location at any given time. This galaxy is home to planets and comets and shuttles and stations. Some of us will never leave our home planets, some of us will never be home, and some of us will take off and go into orbit for a while and then land again.

Non-Binary Lives

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REVIEW #72 | CIEL by Sophie Labelle (eARC)

Title: Ciel

Author: Sophie Labelle

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 15 September 2020

Synopsis:

Ciel is excited to start high school. A gender non-conforming trans kid, Ciel has a YouTube channel and dreams of getting a better camera to really make a mark. Ciel can always rely on their best friend, Stephie, a trans girl who also happens to be a huge nerd, but their friendship begins to feel distant when Stephie makes it clear she wants the fact that she’s trans to be more invisible in high school. While navigating this new friendship dynamic, Ciel is also trying to make a long-distance relationship work with their boyfriend Eirikur, who just moved back to Iceland. When Ciel befriends Liam, a new trans boy at school, things become more complicated by the minute.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • transphobia
  • misgendering
  • xenophobia
  • homophobia (slurs)
  • parent death (mentioned)

Representation:

  • Brazilian-Canadian non-binary trans MC
  • multiple side characters of color (I don’t have the exact races because I somehow lost all my notes, I’m sorry 😭)
  • trans boy side character
  • bi trans girl side character
  • multiple queer/LGBTQ+ side characters (identities not specified)

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

*I received an eARC via NetGalley in exchange for an honest review*

So I normally don’t read Middle Grade books — not because I’m disinterested, but because I usually completely forget about them — but I’m so, so glad I was able to snag this up on NetGalley! It was unbelievably cute, and we need all the happy, uplifting trans/non-binary books for younger readers.

Ciel is about this young non-binary trans kid, Ciel, who is just starting high school. They’re also a small YouTuber, making videos about their day, family, friends, etc. The book follows them and their friends as they come to terms with high school life and the up’s and down’s that come with it.

Lemme be upfront with all y’all and say that not a lot happens in terms of plot: the whole book spans only the first two weeks of high school for Ciel, and it isn’t even 300 pages long. If you’re much more action-oriented, this book may not be for you.

However, this is part of the reason why I fell in love with it: it was basically just a slice-of-life story that focused on Ciel and their issues with their new friend group, their boyfriend, and how to express themself and their gender at a new school. I finished it within about three or four hours, and it was everything I wish I had when I was younger, even though I didn’t know I was genderqueer until much later in life.

Ciel spoke to me as a main character, in more ways than one. I completely empathized with their issue regarding what to wear as a non-binary person, especially because they didn’t want to stand out too much at first. While I usually don’t wear too many overtly feminine things (I’m AFAB), I still have a look where if you saw me on the street, you would probably code me as a woman. However, I wish wish wish I could dress more overtly masculine, maybe even bind. But where I live right now, I don’t want to stand out like that, mostly because I’m not out to barely anyone IRL. So Ciel’s issue? I totally understood them.

And their anxiety regarding friends! Going into high school was so scary for me because I didn’t know a lot of people, even though I was in stuff like band and cross country. I kinda just lumped together with folks from band, and called it a day, even though I felt they were just putting up with me and not because they wanted to be my friend. Seeing that paralleled with Ciel’s experience validated my experiences from so long ago, in my first year of high school.

Oh! And the fact that Ciel wasn’t the only trans person in the book! Their best friend Stephie is a trans girl who, upon entering high school, doesn’t want to make it known that she’s a trans girl, which causes a bit of friction between her and Ciel. There’s also a trans boy character as well, Liam. I just really enjoyed seeing the three of them interact with each other because of how different they come at their trans/non-binary identity. It’s different for each of them, and seeing that variety should make it clear that there’s no specific “right” or “wrong” way to be trans, which I think will be awesome for both trans and non-trans kids alike.

The only thing I wish we got more of was more of the side characters. Understandably, you can only fit so much into a middle grade novel, but damn, I would have loved to see this book spread out over the course of the year, seeing the side characters and how they developed throughout the course of it. That would’ve honestly made it a 10/5 star read for me, really.

I think Ciel is a perfect book for non-trans kids who want to learn more about trans/non-binary experiences, and (first and foremost) for the trans/non-binary kids who are either questioning if they’re “trans enough” or who want a happy, hopeful representation of kids like them. Because that’s what Ciel is: even though it has instances of transphobia and homophobia, it is ultimately a hopeful, positive book about trans kids and their lives. I hope when a trans kid reads it, they see themselves in it, like I did.

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REVIEW #71 | LAIR OF DREAMS by Libba Bray (The Diviners #2) (Mini Review)

Lair of Dreams (The Diviners, #2)

Title: Lair of Dreams

Author: Libba Bray

Series or Standalone?: The Diviners #2

Pub. Date: 5 September 2017

Synopsis:

After a supernatural showdown with a serial killer, Evie O’Neill has outed herself as a Diviner. Now that the world knows of her ability to “read” objects, and therefore, read the past, she has become a media darling, earning the title, “America’s Sweetheart Seer.” But not everyone is so accepting of the Diviners’ abilities…

Meanwhile, mysterious deaths have been turning up in the city, victims of an unknown sleeping sickness. Can the Diviners descend into the dreamworld and catch a killer?

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • homophobia
  • xenophobia
  • racism
  • ableism
  • character death
  • sex trafficking

Representation:

  • gay MC
  • Black MCs
  • mixed (Chinese and Irish) disabled (childhood paralysis; uses crutches) ace lesbian MC
  • (Note: it isn’t declared on-page that the MC is an ace lesbian until the next book, Before the Devil Breaks You)
  • Jewish MCs

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

  • after the events of The Diviners, New York has something else to fend against: a mysterious “sleeping sickness” that’s killing citizens; Evie and the other Diviners have to figure it out before it’s too late
  • I don’t really know what to say outside of….it was great!
  • Ling! Ling! Ling! Ling! I love her so much, and I’m so glad she’s a Diviner
  • her relationship with Henry is amazing, and I enjoyed seeing it develop throughout the novel. I love seeing platonic m/f relationships!
  • Evie was getting on my nerves at times, but her behavior is understandable when you think about what she’s been through
  • I thought the ending was a bit anti-climatic, but overall, I thoroughly enjoyed the book; it really starts to set things up for the later books while also being interesting in its own right

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REVIEW #70 | THE SUN DOWN MOTEL by Simone St. James (Mini Review)

The Sun Down Motel

Title: The Sun Down Motel

Author: Simone St. James

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Pub. Date: 18 February 2020

Synopsis:

The secrets lurking in a rundown roadside motel ensnare a young woman, just as they did her aunt thirty-five years before, in this new atmospheric suspense novel from the national bestselling and award-winning author of The Broken Girls.

Upstate NY, 1982. Every small town like Fell, New York, has a place like the Sun Down Motel. Some customers are from out of town, passing through on their way to someplace better. Some are locals, trying to hide their secrets. Viv Delaney works as the night clerk to pay for her move to New York City. But something isn’t right at the Sun Down, and before long she’s determined to uncover all of the secrets hidden…

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • death
  • murder
  • blood and gore
  • rape/sexual assault (not graphic)

Representation:

  • Black woman side character

⭐⭐⭐⭐ .5
4.5/5 stars

  • when Carly’s mother passes away, she decides to move to New York to figure out her aunt’s murder/disappearance. She ends up working at the same motel her aunt did right before she went missing; cue the haunted motel vibes
  • it was more mystery than horror, but I didn’t mind all that much (and I usually don’t read mysteries)
  • but dear lord, the romance was….not needed. I didn’t care for it one bit and thought that there wasn’t a huge connection between the MC and the LI
  • I really liked the ending, though! I thought it was a great twist, and I didn’t see it coming (but I like to think I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to plot twists, lol)
  • I don’t remember a ton about the characters (the horror of writing a review a month after reading the book), but I remember being invested in Viv (Carly’s aunt) and Carly’s stories and how they ended; I wasn’t let down in that regard
  • do keep in mind that there’s some anti-ace sentiment near the end of the book, where a character mentions that girls “have to have” sex at some point, which…nah. They don’t. Not everyone needs or wants to have sex
  • anyway, overall, I was pretty happy with this book, and I may look into the author’s other works

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REVIEW #69 | THE STRAIN by Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan (The Strain Trilogy #1) (Mini Review) (Audiobook)

The Strain (The Strain Trilogy, #1)

Title: The Strain

Authors: Guillermo del Toro and Chuck Hogan

Series or Standalone?: The Strain Trilogy #1

Pub. Date: 2 June 2009

Synopsis:

A Boeing 777 arrives at JFK and is on its way across the tarmac, when it suddenly stops dead. All window shades are pulled down. All lights are out. All communication channels have gone quiet. Crews on the ground are lost for answers, but an alert goes out to the CDC. Dr. Ephraim “Eph” Goodweather, head of their Canary project, a rapid-response team that investigates biological threats, gets the call and boards the plane. What he finds makes his blood run cold.

In a pawnshop in Spanish Harlem, a former professor and survivor of the Holocaust named Abraham Setrakian knows something is happening. And he knows the time has come, that a war is brewing.

So begins a battle of mammoth proportions as the vampiric virus that has infected New York begins to spill out into the streets. Eph, who is joined by Setrakian and a motley crew of fighters, must now find a way to stop the contagion and save his city – a city that includes his wife and son – before it is too late.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • blood and gore
  • brief POV from an abusive parent
  • fat antagonism
  • animal death (pet dog)
  • racism and xenophobia
  • abuse
  • animal abuse
  • character death
  • infant and child death
  • suicide

Representation:

  • Mexican-American Latinx man
  • Jewish Romanian man
  • Haitian woman (small role, not a major character)

⭐⭐⭐ .5
3.5/5 stars

  • when a deadly virus breaks out in the United States, CDC scientist Eph has to figure out how to stop it. Problem is, it’s not just a simple virus — it’s something older, something darker
  • it was entertaining for the most part: it didn’t blow me away, but it wasn’t atrocious. It kept me mostly engaged, and I do want to see where the rest of the trilogy goes
  • the characters were kinda boring, though, and I didn’t particularly connect with anyone. They were all pretty dry, to me, though there were a few that popped out
  • speaking of characters, though, can we talk about how Nora’s (Eph’s co-worker/maybe partner in the future, who knows) only role throughout the entire book was to be the damsel in distress love interest for Eph? Because thanks, I hate it. Literally, before the big ol’ boss fight or whatever, she said she just had to stay with Eph’s kid to take care of him. Excuse me, but why couldn’t his actual father stay with him instead? Oh I get it, it’s because we can’t have any characters in this book get shit done if they’re women. For the record, Nora is the only major character in this book who’s a woman. So. That’s cool. I guess
  • anyway, I thought the vampires themselves were pretty cool, and they’re basically the only reason I plan on continuing the series. Everything else is kinda meh

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REVIEW #68 | NOW I RISE by Kiersten White (The Conqueror’s Saga #2) (Mini Review)

Now I Rise (And I Darken Series, #2)

Title: Now I Rise

Author: Kiersten White

Series or Standalone?: The Conqueror’s Saga #2

Pub. Date: 27 June 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

She has no allies. No throne. All she has is what she’s always had: herself.

After failing to secure the Wallachian throne, Lada Dracul is out to punish anyone who dares to cross her blood-strewn path. Filled with a white-hot rage, she storms the countryside with her men, accompanied by her childhood friend Bogdan, terrorizing the land. But brute force isn’t getting Lada what she wants. And thinking of Mehmed brings little comfort to her thorny heart. There’s no time to wonder whether he still thinks about her, even loves her. She left him before he could leave her.

What Lada needs is her younger brother Radu’s subtlety and skill. But Mehmed has sent him to Constantinople—and it’s no diplomatic mission. Mehmed wants control of the city, and Radu has earned an unwanted place as a double-crossing spy behind enemy lines. Radu longs for his sister’s fierce confidence—but for the first time in his life, he rejects her unexpected plea for help. Torn between loyalties to faith, to the Ottomans, and to Mehmed, he knows he owes Lada nothing. If she dies, he could never forgive himself—but if he fails in Constantinople, will Mehmed ever forgive him?

As nations fall around them, the Dracul siblings must decide: what will they sacrifice to fulfill their destinies? Empires will topple, thrones will be won…and souls will be lost.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • I don’t…know all of them because I forgot to keep track, lmao
  • character death
  • blood and gore
  • sexism

Representation:

  • sapphic side characters
  • men loving men characters
  • Muslim characters
  • characters of color

⭐⭐⭐⭐
4/5 stars

  • Now I Rise takes place shortly after the events of And I Darken. Radu is ordered by Mehmed to live in Constantinople as a spy, and Lada is working on gaining support in order to take back Wallachia
  • Listen, going in, I didn’t think I would be rooting for Radu so much, but here we are. I love him, Nazira, and Cyprian, and I would probably die for all three of them
  • Lada’s development and story are super intriguing, and I can’t wait to see what the third book will bring for her
  • This was such a fun read for me — I have to get the third book ASAP!

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REVIEW #67 | STORM FRONT by Jim Butcher (Dresden Files #1) (Mini Review)

Storm Front (The Dresden Files, #1)

Title: Storm Front

Author: Jim Butcher

Series or Standalone?: The Dresden Files #1

Pub. Date: 1 April 2000

Synopsis (Goodreads):

Harry Dresden — Wizard

Lost items found. Paranormal Investigations.
Consulting. Advice. Reasonable Rates.
No Love Potions, Endless Purses, or
Other Entertainment.

Harry Dresden is the best at what he does. Well, technically, he’s the only at what he does. So when the Chicago P.D. has a case that transcends mortal creativity or capability, they come to him for answers. For the “everyday” world is actually full of strange and magical things — and most of them don’t play well with humans. That’s where Harry comes in. Takes a wizard to catch a — well, whatever.

There’s just one problem. Business, to put it mildly, stinks. So when the police bring him in to consult on a grisly double murder committed with black magic, Harry’s seeing dollar signs. But where there’s black magic, there’s a black mage behind it. And now that mage knows Harry’s name. And that’s when things start to get… interesting.

Magic. It can get a guy killed.

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • I…can’t remember all of them.
  • blood
  • gore
  • dead bodies
  • misogyny/sexism

Representation:

  • …literally nothing, lmao

⭐⭐
2/5 stars

  • Storm Front follows a wizard named Harry Dresden, who hires himself out as a private investigator/consultant. As a string of murders comes to light, all clues pointing to Harry, he has to find out quickly who’s framing him
  • Yes, hi, hello, I uhh really hated this book
  • I do not like Harry as a character. Like. At all. He’s so misogynistic, and he hits me as the “m’lady” type
  • Literally none of the woman characters (like…three??? maybe???) are written well at all. They’re all flat caricatures. I mean, tbh, all the characters are pretty flat, but it was really obvious with the characters who were women
  • This is definitely a personal thing, and not an objectively bad thing, but I found the plot boring because it was one of those police procedural-type books. I love them as TV shows, but not as books; I just find them as boring
  • On top of that, I felt like the world-building was a bit lackluster
  • The two stars go entirely to the talking skull
  • I know that some of these problems would probably be resolved the longer the series goes, but uhhh, I’m not giving my time and effort to a book series with over 15 books and not knowing if the payback is worth it ¯\_(ツ)_/¯

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REVIEW #66 | LABYRINTH LOST by Zoraida Córdova (Brooklyn Brujas #1)

Labyrinth Lost (Brooklyn Brujas, #1)

Title: Labyrinth Lost

Author: Zoraida Córdova

Series or Standalone?: Brookly Brujas #1

Publishing Date: 1 August 2017

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“I was chosen by the Deos. Even gods make mistakes.

“Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation…and she hates magic. At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo she can’t trust, but who may be Alex’s only chance at saving her family.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • blood/gore
  • genre-typical violence
  • kidnapped family
  • [Note: there’s probably more, but I didn’t write down the list as I was reading, and…it’s been a couple months]

Representation:

  • bi Afro-Latinx girl MC
  • Latinx side character
  • sapphic Indian side character
  • [Note: …look back to the first note, lmao]

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

All you need to know about this book is that, outside of Rashani Chokshi, Zoraida Córdova is the only author I found so far that can make a real good love triangle. Anyways, that means I love it.

Labyrinth Lost is the first book in a YA urban fantasy/supernatural series about a young Afro-Latinx girl, Alex, who is also a bruja (a witch). Alex doesn’t see the good in magic, and perceives it as something inherently bad.

So, on her Deathday (where her friends and family come together to celebrate her emerging powers), she attempts a spell in order to get rid of her powers. But instead, her family disappears.

In order to find them, Alex must team up with her friend Rishi and Nova, another brujo. Cue the epic adventure!

I said this at the beginning of the review, but holy fucking shit, this love triangle, y’all. It didn’t feel forced, it didn’t feel like the two love interests are competing for Alex as if she were simply a “prize.” It just felt…good. Depending on how the rest of the books go, I can definitely see myself shipping these characters as a polyam trio. Please, Mx. Córdova, give us the polyam trio we deserve. 😌

Also, I just really love these characters! Alex is such an interesting protagonist for me: she loves her family to bits, but she also hates her magic, which is so important to her family — how can she reconcile these two things? It was really interesting for me to see her struggle with this internally throughout the novel, and I can’t wait to see how this continues throughout the series.

And Rishi and Nova?? They are perfect, too, and they can do no wrong. Seriously, Rishi is such a good friend to Alex, and Nova made me like the “bad boy” trope, which is a feat. I usually hate that trope. Look at what Zoraida is doing, she’s making me like tropes I normally hate. That right there? Pure, unadulterated skill. We love to see it.

Honestly, though, this was such a fun book for me to read! The focus on family was amazing, the love triangle was *chef’s kiss*, Alex’s character development is so good, and! This is just a little thing, but any non-English words that pop up? Aren’t italicized! It’s small, but it makes me smile. So, yeah, overall? This was a wonderful urban fantasy/supernatural book, and I can’t wait to pick up the series when I get a chance!

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REVIEW #65 | THE BLACK VEINS by Ashia Monet (eARC) (Dead Magic #1)

Title: The Black Veins

Author: Ashia Monet

Series or Standalone?: Dead Magic #1

Publishing Date: 17 July 2019

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“In a world where magic thrives in secret city corners, a group of magicians embark on a road trip—and it’s the “no-love-interest”, found family adventure you’ve been searching for.

“Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers. But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop, so why should she care about having apocalyptic abilities?

“She’s given a reason when magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family.

“Heartbroken but determined, Blythe knows she can’t save them alone. A war is brewing between two magician governments and tensions are too high. So, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians.”

Trigger/Content warnings (copy and pasted directly from the novel) [Note: they usually aren’t this specific with chapters, but like I said, I’m taking it directly from the book’s content warning section]:

  • discussion of deceased parents and siblings; potential parent/family death
  • description of mild bloodshed in violent scenes
  • mention of drugs/drug use (specifically marijuana)
  • gun use
  • supernatural horror in the form of monsters, primarily found in Chapters 6, 12, and 25
  • car accident in chapter 19
  • discussion of anxiety disorders/panic disorders, primarily found in Chapters 22, 23, and 25
  • racial n-word slur, ending in -a, found in Chapter 21
  • mild anxiety attack in Chapter 25

Representation (drawn from the author’s handy-dandy Twitter thread):

  • Black bisexual girl protagonist with anxiety
  • Chinese/British mixed girl side character who will (eventually) identify as questioning (she identifies as straight in The Black Veins)
  • Puerto Rican boy side character that will (eventually) come to identify as demisexual, demiromantic, and only attracted to boys
  • Black straight girl side character
  • Black bisexual boy side character
  • white ace trans boy side character
  • white non-binary/agender side character that uses they/them pronouns

⭐⭐⭐⭐
4/5 stars

*I received an eARC from the author in exchange for an honest review*

(We’ll just…ignore the fact that I’m a half a year late with this review. Ha…haha…)

I didn’t know I needed this wild, magical road trip book until I was done with it. Y’all, it was so good!!

The Black Veins follows Blythe, a Black bisexual girl who is also, coincidentally, a Guardian, a person who has control over one of the several different branches of magic. When her family is kidnapped and her family-owned coffeeshop is destroyed, Blythe is heartbroken. She decides, however, to follow them across the country in order to get them back. But she can’t do this alone. She has to go on a road trip to find the other Guardians in order to be strong enough to take on the people who kidnapped her family.

So, like. I don’t really read a lot of urban fantasy now. Most of the ones I know about are those adult urban fantasy series that are basically police procedurals with magic/magical creatures and sex, and they never caught my eye. But The Black Veins??? Was so much fun???

Seriously, I think one of the best parts about this novel was how fun it was. You have seven teens (or, well, mostly teens since Dan’s, like, twelve) that are eventually all travelling together. They are wildly different from one another, but they just seem to click, ya know? There were so many lines and jokes throughout the story that had me laughing outloud because the humor is just so spot-on. Ashia Monet, being a millenial (or Gen Z? I dunno, around that age range, lol) herself, does our kind of humor so well, and it worked. There were also some serious moments for sure, and they were given their time to be serious, which I appreciated. But, man, that humor… I was honestly not expecting that.

Also, damn, those characters??? Those characters!! I literally loved all of them. First of all, just look at that representation list. Five out of seven of the main cast are characters of color, and all but two are part of the LGBTQ+ community. That alone makes me so happy because their existence is never questioned. They’re bi? Cool. They’re trans and/or non-binary? Dope. They find out that they’re questioning later on? Awesome. In the end (definitely not in the beginning for all of them, lol), they support one another no matter what, and I that found family trope is just…so wonderful. I love it so much, and I think Ashia does an amazing job of creating and building these relationships in such an organic way. To me, it is definitely one of her strengths.

I’m just going to go right down the line and give a quick description of the seven of them because if I go even more in-depth, this review will take ages. So, without further ado…

  • Blythe: the protagonist; super determined to get her family back, but anxious about how to do it/what’s happening to them
  • Cordelia: doesn’t take anyone’s shit; literally a hacker what the fuck; under that cold exterior, she really does care for everyone
  • Daniel: *ahem* I WILL PROTECT HIM WITH MY LIFE; just a sheltered boy who likes plants and nature and shit, and has a ~secret~
  • Antonio: sunny surfer boy is, actually, my son; just a happy dude who likes to bake and make everyone feel good
  • Storm: probably the funniest out of the seven of them (literally made me laugh out loud so many times); makes me want to know more about her
  • Caspian: listen…this boy…can I just say that I love his character development (and Daniel’s!)
  • Jay: flirty bi king we all need; I need to see more of him in the next book because his and Antonio’s interactions are something else entirely

Overall? I felt connected to the characters even with the plot being as fast as it was. While there were a few parts I was confused by or I thought were just a tad too coincidental, I thought this was a wonderful debut, and I can’t wait to see what Ashia has in store for us in the future.

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REVIEW #64 | PRIORY OF THE ORANGE TREE by Samantha Shannon

Title: The Priory of the Orange Tree

Author: Samantha Shannon

Series or Standalone?: Standalone

Publishing Date: 26 February 2019

Synopsis (Goodreads):

“A world divided. A queendom without an heir. An ancient enemy awakens.

“The House of Berethnet has ruled Inys for a thousand years. Still unwed, Queen Sabran the Ninth must conceive a daughter to protect her realm from destruction – but assassins are getting closer to her door.

“Ead Duryan is an outsider at court. Though she has risen to the position of lady-in-waiting, she is loyal to a hidden society of mages. Ead keeps a watchful eye on Sabran, secretly protecting her with forbidden magic.

“Across the dark sea, Tané has trained to be a dragonrider since she was a child, but is forced to make a choice that could see her life unravel.

“Meanwhile, the divided East and West refuse to parley, and forces of chaos are rising from their sleep.”

Trigger/Content warnings:

  • executions
  • character deaths
  • gore and blood
  • violence
  • miscarriage/death of a newborn

Representation:

  • f/f relationship
  • m/m side relationship (prior to the events of the book)
  • characters coded as people of color
  • a woman character dealing with depression and anxiety

⭐⭐⭐⭐⭐
5/5 stars

So I think I’m Samantha Shannon trash now? I now have a desperate need to read the rest of her books. As someone who is just dipping their toes into adult high fantasy, The Priory of the Orange Tree was absolutely amazing.

The Priory of the Orange Tree is a political high fantasy novel that follows several characters in different parts of the world as the dreaded Nameless One (the evil dragon baddie, if there ever was one) begins to rise from its slumber to destroy the world.

First, there’s Ead, who is one of the helpers for Sabran, Queen of Inys. She is actually part of a secret mage society but is working undercover to keep the Sabran safe from harm. Then we have Loth, a Lord from Inys and one of Sabran’s closest friends. He and his friend Kit are sent to another country, where both a plague and support for the evil wyverns are rampant. However, not everything is as it seems. Niclays lives in the East, having been banished from Inys years before. When he helps a stranger hide, his sheltered life begins to crumble. Tane is a young woman who has been training her whole life to be a dragon rider, someone that protects the East with the help of the mythical god-like creatures. Things start to go awry, though, when she helps to hide a castaway she meets on the beach.

As the story unfolds, these four characters are instrumental to what happens, either making decisions that help move the world toward destruction, or further away from it. The four of them have such rich backstories — along with the other characters — and I loved learning about them. They each have their own distinct desires and motives, and they’re not all black and white. For those of you who’ve known me for a while, you know how much I love books that focus on its characters, and this is definitely one of them! Oh, and you know what’s even better? When all of these seemingly separate stories become interconnected —- it’s simply *chef’s kiss*.

Along with that, I truly believe that the writing is such a strong aspect of this book. The language used is beautiful and easy to understand. I didn’t have to strain to find out what was going on and, on top of that, the language could be very pretty and/or moving. It was accessible, and sometimes that can be hard to find in adult high fantasy.

I will say that the ending is a bit rushed for my liking, but in the grand scheme of things, I wasn’t bothered by it. The climatic battle didn’t feel all that climatic, but at the end, I still felt like The Priory of the Orange Tree is its own contained story. I think it does well as a standalone, but of course, I will always be happy with a sequel (or even a prequel!). It was a very fun world to visit, and I can’t wait to see what Shannon does next.

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