Tag Archives: bookreview

Review: Love&Bubbles

Love&BubblesA Collection of Queer Underwater Love Stories, edited by Jaylee James & Jennifer Lee Rossman

Love & Bubbles coverDive into romance with these twelve stories of queer love under the sea!
 
Love & Bubbles is a short fiction anthology of love stories united by an underwater theme and featuring characters from across the LGBTQ+ spectrum.
 
Go on a deep-sea voyage to study a brand-new species alongside a cute, distracted scientist. Discover your magic with a water witch and the help of a cute mermaid. Explore the waters of an alien ocean. Get summoned to the surface with a grumpy old merman and his non-binary water demon neighbor. Swim with a catfish goddess, rescue a dolphin… and so much more!

So. Cute! The anthology is a lovely collection of sweet stories, and definitely worth picking up if you need the equivalent of a warm hug. I love the sheer range of protagonists, places, romance choices and possibilities; from the one central theme, the authors have all gone in very different directions, while still keeping the thread of romance and sweetness throughout.

Summoned by Minerva Cerridwen is about a very sweet elderly couple; a grumpy merman meets his strange neighbour and accidentally ends up going along for his next job…which, incidentally, made me laugh that you’d summon the equivalent of a demon for it! In the second story, Worlds Between Us by Riley Sidell, I love the dual-world nature; it’s got long distance relationship issues alongside communication and “will this magic even work?” problems, and I love the complex relationship and cultures hinted at – and the nosy whale, who is adorable.

Some of the stories have similar themes; Color and Pressure by Evvan Burke follows undersea scientists, and I like the worried and reserved nature of the protagonist. Stuck by Mharie West has a similar premise, but taken in a more sci-fi direction as it follows scientists working undersea, getting hung up on an ex…and what happens if your attention gets distracted by a colleague! The Dwindling Forest of Kelp by Victoria Zelvin also has a sci-fi feel, alien and yet familiar; a visitor to the planet trapped along with an inhabitant, learning to communicate and also wondering where/how they’re going to go…

The Selkie Wife by Lia Cooper is a very sweet story; I love the idea of a selkie in the modern world, and the changes in the seas that make coming back to the one place that much harder! Familiar Waters by VS Holmes has a similar feel; it’s very poetic and beautiful, with a mix of mythology and romance – the idea of migration and leaving, and the changes that happen over time, but the relationship remains. Shallows by Jennifer Lee Rossman has a more modern theme, with dolphin shapeshifters and romance – what’s not to like? Signing Under The Sea by Lizzie Colt is also quite modern, following a slowly growing relationship between an ocean dweller and human visitor.

Some of the stories are more human-centric; possibly my favourite story, Tanner and the Water Nymph by Jaylee James, has a non-binary protagonist and a problem with the shower which means meeting an unexpected visitor, and I love the conclusion to this story! It’s so sweet. A Happy Place by Maggie Derrick follows a witch in exile because she hasn’t yet found her magic, and the realisation that maybe she doesn’t have to stick within the confines of what she’s expected to do…especially as she meets someone she’d like to know better… And the last story, Ondine by M Hollis, follows someone returning home after their mother’s death, remembering former history and an old love, and wondering if it’s something they want to return to.

So, overall – a very sweet and unexpected anthology, and definitely worth a read if you want a diverse and light-hearted, romantic read.

Review: The Wizard’s Daughter

The Wizard’s Daughter by Jeff Minerd

Sixteen-year-old Brieze is the apprentice and adopted daughter of a powerful wizard. She never met her biological father, a merchantman from the faraway Eastern Kingdoms who had a brief romance with her mother, then disappeared. When Brieze discovers her mother is still secretly, crazily in love with this man, even after seventeen years, she decides to find
him, confront him, and get some answers from him for her mother’s sake.

In her small airship the Devious, she makes the long and dangerous journey to the Eastern Kingdoms. Along the way, she confronts pirates and the nocturnal ship-crushing beast known as the Nagmor. She survives a harrowing trip through the legendary Wind’s Teeth. She discovers why her father disappeared, and in the process she learns the true
version of her own story.

When Brieze’s boyfriend, Tak, receives word she’s in danger, he sets out on his own journey east to help her. Will he be able to rescue her, or will she end up having to rescue him?

I was lucky enough to get an ARC of this from Jeff as I’d read The Sailweaver’s Son and reviewed it over at SFFWorld. This is the second in a projected three (I think?) – certainly it ends on something of a cliffhanger, so we’re certainly set up for another one!

While the last book focused on Tak, this one is firmly about Brieze (albeit there is some storyline that follows Tak, now training to be a soldier.) The wizard’s apprentice has decided to find her father, and I adore her – well, basically, pig-headed stubbornness that means she’s going to do it, no matter what anyone else says! The characterisation throughout the book is lovely, and Brieze’s stubbornness, independence and sheer character comes through well. My favourite part was probably her trying to sneak out of the Palace, but fighting the Nagmor was a close second.

The atmosphere and worldbuilding is very good, and I loved the Wind’s Teeth, along with the cities; the characters are also entertaining, and the story rattles along at a nice pace. Tak’s arc, while brief, gives a nod to PTSD and the stupidity of young love;  and Brieze finds some of her answers while getting more questions – and everything gets pushed along nicely for the third book, which I hope will give both characters some interesting conclusions!

In short; if you like a mix of epic fantasy and steampunk in a world with floating ships, goblins, sky-monsters, pirates, wizards and very stubborn heroines, then read The Sailweaver’s Son, and then read this!

Review: The Haunting of Tyler May

The Haunting of Tyler May by BJ Mears

As Tyler May empties her classmate’s bag she discovers a secret that turns her life upside down and challenges her perception of the known world. She begins a journey that takes her from the hunted to the hunter; from a disbeliever to the keeper of the truth. Will she and her friends have the courage to stand together and face the sinister forces that threaten humanity? As each day passes, Tyler must decide how far she is willing to go. After all, she is just one teenage (girl.

This is the first in a series of a YA, horror-mixed-with-adventure type thing…and I liked it! I’m not entirely sure I’m the right audience, and the second book is on my TBR (but not at the top), but – it was a fun read!

The basic plot is that Tyler accidentally gets her classmate’s bag, finds a mysterious book and a bunch of notes, finds an odd gadget…and finds a world of trouble! Tyler’s a fun heroine; she manages to get herself into trouble without entirely meaning to but still definitely knowing she’s heading in that direction, and the mix of frustration, stubbornness and morality makes her a fun protagonist to follow. I liked the hints of Tyler’s frustrations mixed into her adventures; she needs to make lists, needs to be ordered – and still wants to go hunt the bad guys!

I admit to not being entirely sure about her enemies…I tend to get cynical about Nazis as baddies, but I was fairly happy to mentally give it a pass. It’s meant to be a fun adventure romp, and I think baddies get a pass to be Bad in that scenario. Certainly they make effective – and fun – adversaries, and the helpers (and hinderers) that Tyler meets along the way add to the cast.

On which note, I love the gadget that Tyler uses – there’s a whole bunch of different functions, a rabble of ghosts, and I love the inventiveness of Tyler’s use of it! The Tower was definitely my favourite.

So; a fun, horror-tinged story that features a stubborn, strong-willed and adventurous heroine, a plot-full of baddies, and some great characters. Worth a read if you’re a teenager, or it sounds like fun – and there’s the rest of the series if you like it!

Review: Shorts and Snippets

 

Aether by PandaFried

Aether coverOn a dull little planet called Earth, seventeen Winston Privet dreams of another life of magic and adventure, in comparison to which his own mundane existence feels pointless, wrong and incomplete. That reality, though, is about to change.

First, an in-progress one, so it fits with ‘snippets’ – a mix of a fairy story and Harry Potter with some added bite! I’m really enjoying this one and looking forward to seeing where it goes…

Prime Meridian by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Prime Meridian coverAmelia dreams of Mars. The Mars of the movies and the imagination, an endless bastion of opportunities for a colonist with some guts. But she’s trapped in Mexico City, enduring the drudgery of an unkind metropolis, working as a rent-a-friend, selling her blood to old folks with money who hope to rejuvenate themselves with it, enacting a fractured love story. And yet there’s Mars, at the edge of the silver screen, of life.

It awaits her.

This is a mix of a personal story and snippets of film description; it mixes Amelia’s day-to-day life with the heroine’s exploits. But Amelia’s day-to-day life seems trapped in an endless cycle – where once she wanted to go to Mars as a colonist, she had to give up her studies to care for her mother, and now floats from cafe to cafe earning tiny amounts as a befriender or blood donor. Even an ex coming back into her life isn’t much of a release – but I loved how all the threads came together.

It’s a simple story, a gentle story, but it’s got teeth underneath: it’s a story about hopelessness and the endless cycle of frustration, but there’s some lovely moments of hope – and the film wound through gives it a silver-screen glow.

Spirits Abroad by Zen Cho

Spirits abroad cover

“If you live near the jungle, you will realize that what is real and what is not real is not always clear. In the forest there is not a big gap between the two.”

A Datin recalls her romance with an orang bunian. A teenage pontianak struggles to balance homework, bossy aunties, first love, and eating people. An earth spirit gets entangled in protracted negotiations with an annoying landlord, and Chang E spins off into outer space, the ultimate metaphor for the Chinese diaspora.

This is a mix of 15 shorts, ranging across fantasy to horror. My absolute favourite was The House Of Aunts, a romance about a teenager meeting their crush while also being a vampire and dealing with an entire houseful of aunties! I also adored Liyana;  it’s a sweet and gentle story with a bucketful of tears underneath. The characters were complex and brilliant in The Mystery of the Suet Swain, and Prudence & the Dragon is also great fun and definitely about the two figures at the centre of the story – even if it doesn’t exactly turn out how one of them had planned!

Throughout the collection, I loved the extra winding details, the way the author tells the stories; One-Day TravelCard to Fairyland is a good example, and Lion Bows is also very atmospheric; I loved the characters and the concept of a lion eating ghosts – until they find one that maybe they don’t want to eat! Balik Kampung is also a heart-tugging and gentle story about a shade returning to the world for the Festival and trying to get back to her husband, but remembering what happened to her along the way.

While all of the stories are easy to read and interesting, some needed extra details – but then that’s part of the joy of coming from a Western background to a different tradition – as the author notes, everyone knows the story of Hang Tuah and Chang E! It’s a nicely varied collection, too; every story has a heart-tug, but every one handles it in a different way.

Overall, a lovely collection; varied and interesting and haunting.

The Lady Astronaut of Mars by Mary Robinette Kowal

Lady Astronaut coverThirty years ago, Elma York led the expedition that paved the way to life on Mars. For years she’s been longing to go back up there, to once more explore the stars. But there are few opportunities for an aging astronaut, even the famous Lady Astronaut of Mars. When her chance finally comes, it may be too late. Elma must decide whether to stay with her sickening husband in what will surely be the final years of his life, or to have her final adventure and plunge deeper into the well of space.

A short novelette based after the end of The Calculating Stars – sweet, sad, and hopeful! You don’t need to have read The Calculating Stars (I’ll do a review soon!), but it’s definitely more poignant if you have. Worth a read.