T5W: LGBTQ+

This is a day late, I know, so it’s more like a Top 5 Thursday than a Top 5 Wednesday, but I’ve been meaning to do a post of my favourite LGBTQ+ books for a while, so I wasn’t going to let this excuse pass me by. 😉

5) The Long Way to a Small, Angry Planet by Becky Chambers

A story about the crew of a spaceship, who’ve signed on to create a wormhole between two distant planets, a task that involves a long journey through deep space, and a lot of time with only each other for company. This book is, naturally, heavily character-driven, and the thing I like most about it is the sheer diversity of it, both in terms of race/species and relationships (and the “plus” part of LGBTQ+ plays a prominent role here). My favourite relationship in the book is between one of the crewmembers and the ship’s A.I., which is incredibly sweet, but the book also does a really great job of portraying same-sex relationships, inter-species relationships, and even polyamory.

4) The Heroes of Olympus series by Rick Riordan

The gay character (who I won’t name here for the benefit of the one person in the world who hasn’t read this series yet, a.k.a. Chloë) in this series is actually closeted for the majority of it (as well as the Percy Jackson & the Olympians series, in which he also plays a fairly prominent role), but his forced coming-out scene in The House of Hades is one of my favourite moments in any of Riordan’s books, ever. So many feelings! 😥 I’m not a huge fan of the eventual pairing that Riordan seemingly picked out of a hat for him (something that I’ve been forced to confront more and more recently, as I’ve just started reading The Trials of Apollo series, which is set not long after Heroes of Olympus), but he himself is a really wonderful, well-rounded character, and I love how the (quite sudden) revelation of his sexuality didn’t change his role in the books in the slightest.

3) The Boy Who Wept Blood by Den Patrick

The second book in the Erebus Sequence (though the first one reads very much like a prequel, so I think that The Boy Who Wept Blood might actually be a better starting point for this series), which follows a group of Orfani – people who are all remarkably talented and highly educated, but horrifically deformed – in a gothic fantasy setting. The main character in this book (who is also present in The Boy with the Porcelain Blade, but only as a small child) struggles a lot with his sexuality, as his world is about as accepting of homosexuality as our own, over 100 years ago… so, not very much. :/

2) The Half Life trilogy by Sally Green

The main pairing in Sally Green’s Half Life trilogy – which follows a young man who’s half-Black Witch and half-White Witch, and persecuted by both societies – took me somewhat by surprise. It was a relationship I was rooting for from their very first meeting, and I was aware of comments that Green had made on social media that they were perfect for each other, but somehow it always seemed like Nathan would be running from his feelings until long after the series’ ending. (And also, he had a girlfriend, which didn’t bode hugely well.) Needless to say, I was overjoyed when it became canon. 😀 These were two amazing characters, and a beautiful, heartbreaking, and incredibly realistic love story, despite their fantastical circumstances.

1) Carry On by Rainbow Rowell

Lastly, one of my favourite books of all time, Carry On, which tells the story of Simon and Baz at Watford School of Magicks, where a mysterious being known as the Insidious Humdrum is threatening magic’s very existence. It’s actually a spin-off of another of Rowell’s books, Fangirl, whose main character writes fanfiction of the mega-successful Simon Snow series (which is the Harry Potter of the Fangirl universe). It’s all very meta (and also fantastic)… So pretty much everyone knew from the time the book was announced that Simon and Baz were going to be a couple, and their relationship played a major part in the novel, without eclipsing the main storyline in the slightest. It was just there, slowly and wonderfully developing in the background, while all the drama and mysteries unfolded around it.

You might have noticed that none of the books on this list (except maybe Carry On) advertise themselves as LGBTQ+ stories (i.e. books that deliberately focus on sexuality, and how it influences the lives of their protagonists). This wasn’t exactly a deliberate choice, but although there are plenty of specifically-LGBTQ+ books that I really like (and when you’re writing a book specifically about LGBTQ+ issues, then the only way your readers won’t know about it going in is if they don’t bother to read the blurb), I really appreciate it when authors don’t feel the need to make a big deal out of their characters’ sexuality… and I feel that it goes a long way towards normalising diversity in literature, without trivialising the struggles that LGBTQ+ people face in society.

Also, an honourable mention for Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson, which has a special place in my heart as one of the few books out there (and the only one I’ve read so far) with an openly asexual lead character. It’s also a really good book, of course, just not quite as amazing as most of the books on this list. (It was such a difficult choice!)

[Top 5 Wednesday is run by Sam from ThoughtsOnTomes. To find out more or join in, check out the Goodreads group.]

Review: The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke (Spoiler-Free)

Cat Novak grows up in the aftermath of an event that’s only known as the Disaster, in which millions of humans were killed, and after which millions of robots were created to help rebuild. Homeschooled and with no close neighbours, Cat’s best friend is Finn – a unique, super-advanced robot whom her father has re-programmed to be her tutor – and as she grows older, her feelings for him only become more complicated… but can a robot, even one as advanced as Finn, ever be capable of returning her feelings?

What I was expecting from this book was a cute (though maybe a little sad) romance between a robot and a teenage girl; something in line with Clarke’s The Assassin’s Curse series – the only other books of hers that I’ve read. What I got was something much deeper, much heavier, and much more complex. Rather than cute-but-sad, The Mad Scientist’s Daughter was simultaneously heartwarming and heartbreaking, and unlike The Assassin’s Curse, it was very clearly not aimed at younger readers. This last point would probably have been less of a surprise to me if I’d investigated the book a little more before deciding to read it, but I saw the words “Cassandra Rose Clarke”, “love” and “robots” on the same cover, and let my imagination have free reign from there. A mistake? Possibly. But I do enjoy having my expectations defied – and in this case, far surpassed.

This is very much a character-driven story, and Clarke’s done a really great job of creating a cast of characters who were all beautifully – and realistically – flawed. Even though at times I didn’t particularly like Cat, I always felt that I could understand why she was behaving in the way she was (even when her reasoning was somewhat flawed), and the relationships she formed with the people around her were wonderful. I really enjoyed how close she became to her father as she grew up, and the way that she and her mother continually failed to understand one another (despite loving each other) was heart-wrenching.

And, of course, there was also Finn, who constantly struggles with his own sense of identity and purpose, as well as his desires. Later on in the book, Cat has a chance to finally find out about Finn’s origins, and what she discovers is both incredibly sad and incredibly fascinating. I loved the way that Finn’s friendship altered Cat’s worldview throughout the book; first leading her to get into a fight with a boy at school who calls robots abominations, then influencing her choice of topic for her thesis, and later on leading to her involvement in the Automaton Defense League (a pro-automaton rights group)… but at the same time there’s something of a disconnect between the things that she believes about Finn and the way that she behaves towards him.

Richard was an interesting character, too, and I had a lot of very conflicted feelings about him. Don’t get me wrong, I’m really glad that he exited Cat’s life at the point that he did, but I also think that he and Cat were both in some way to blame for everything that went wrong in their relationship; Cat was as much the villain of Richard’s story as Richard was the villain of hers…

The exact setting of the story is rather vague, both in terms of location (somewhere in America) and time (futuristic, but not so much so that the world seems unfamiliar), but I found that this mattered very little, because it’s not really a story about living in a distant future; it’s a story about people, and people will always be people wherever – or whenever – they are. If Clarke hadn’t wanted to write about robots, then The Mad Scientist’s Daughter could just have easily been set in America at the beginning of the Civil Rights movement, or even in ancient Rome without being any different in essentials… by which I mean that the although the book’s setting is futuristic, the issues it deals with are both timeless and universal.

Overall: Powerful, thought-provoking, and superbly written. I have no doubt that this is a story that I’ll still be pondering for quite some time, and it’s well-deserving of all the thought that I can give it.

March Wrap-Up

I spent the majority of March obsessing over Horizon: Zero Dawn (probably one of the best games I’ve ever played), so I didn’t do as much reading as I might otherwise have done… but I did manage to read six novels and a short story, and finish off a manga series that I started a little while ago. 😀 Better yet, almost everything I read was really amazing; it was definitely a good month in terms of reading quality!

David Gaider//AsunderAsunder by David Gaider. The third book in the series of Dragon Age spin-off novels, which tell the stories of various side-characters and background events from the video games… Asunder tells the story of Cole in the lead-up to the Mage Rebellion and, consequently, the events of Dragon Age: Inquisition, as well as his two friends at the White Spire (Val Royeaux’s Circle of Magi), Rhys and Evangeline… and it’s by far the best of the Dragon Age novels I’ve read so far! I’m pretty preoccupied with the plight of the mages, so this book seems almost like it was written for me; so many of the things that were said in it are things that I’ve been wanting to hear people acknowledge since I started playing the games! Even beyond the Mage Rebellion issues, the plotline was fascinating, and the characters were all great, too: It was wonderful to revisit all of the returning characters from the games, and I really loved all the new characters who were introduced.5 starsLove So Life by Kaede Kouichi. A manga series about a high school girl who is taken on as a babysitter for an adorable pair of three-year-old twins, and ends up falling in love with their guardian. The characters were all super-sweet, and I loved the romance between Shiharu and Seiji, as well as Shiharu’s relationship with the twins. ❤ As with many slice-of-life series, there’s not much to say in regards to plot – it’s fairly standard rom-com fare – but it was very well executed. This was such a cute series to read; I’m really glad that I stumbled across it in my journeys through manga-land! 😉Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen. A classic novel about two very different sisters who both find that their paths to happiness may not be as straight as they were expecting. This was a really enjoyable read; I love Jane Austen’s writing and characters so much, and Sense & Sensibility definitely lived up to my expectations. I didn’t like it quite as much as Pride & Prejudice or Emma, but anyone who knows how much I love those two books will realise that that’s really not saying much. 😉 I’ve written a proper review of this book already; you can find it here.Fearless by Tim Lott. A dystopian novel about a girl living in what appears to be a boarding school, but is actually an institution where supposedly criminal girls are sent to become the City’s unpaid labour force. I picked this up for the March Library Scavenger Hunt, but it was distinctly uninspiring… My LSH picks seem to be rather hit-or-miss, and unfortunately this one was definitely a miss. :/ You can find my full review here.

The Hands That Are Not There by Melinda Snodgrass. A sci-fi short story from the Dangerous Women anthology, which tells the story of a human aristocrat who’s having a risky affair with a half-human stripper, in a future where all human-alien relationships are illegal. I’m not usually one to get very invested in short stories, but really enjoyed this one, and only wish that there’d been more of it; the world that Snodgrass set up was fascinating, and the plot definitely had the complexity to support a much longer book…Darcy’s Story by Janet Aylmer. A retelling of Jane Austen’s Pride & Prejudice from Mr. Darcy’s perspective. The problem I often have with Jane Austen fanfiction (which is what this is, regardless of its publication status) is that the writers usually try to imitate Austen’s writing style, and it ends up coming across very stilted, but I’m pleased to say that Aylmer has done a reasonably good job in that respect, and Darcy’s voice rang true even during the scenes that were not part of Pride & Prejudice. In terms of dialogue, she has barely strayed from the original work, so it is naturally excellent, but not very original. I didn’t mind this, as it’s to be expected in a straight-up retelling, and in fact it probably would’ve irritated me if it’d been modified overmuch… with the exception of one scene in particular (when Lady Catherine visited Darcy to tell him about her talk with Elizabeth at Longbourn), which included some shoehorned-in direct quotes which made the conversation feel very unnatural… Overall, however, this was an enjoyable read, and an interesting study of Darcy’s character.Jeremy Poldark by Winston Graham. The third book in the Poldark series, which follows a Cornish family in the 1700s, who are all very involved in the copper trade. As with previous books in this series, I found the insight into the copper industry itself to be really fascinating, and the continuing plot and character development are both tense and frustrating (in the best possible way). Some of the suspense was removed for me by the fact that I already knew what was going to happen (I’ve been watching the TV series, too), but I don’t think that really effected my enjoyment of the story except in that it made me a little surprised by how not-belligerent Ross was being for most of the book, compared to his on-screen portrayal… I’ve rated Jeremy Poldark slightly lower than the previous two books, not because it’s not as good, but because I wasn’t quite as engaged with it as I was with Ross Poldark or Demelza, but needless to say, I’m still really enjoying this series.The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke. An unexpectedly powerful and thought-provoking story about a girl who falls in love with a robot, at a tumultuous time when robots are beginning to be thought of as people, but haven’t been given rights. I won’t say too much more about it here (except that, of course, I really liked it), as I’m hoping to have a proper review of it up shortly. 🙂

Teaser Tuesday #9

THE RULES:

  • Grab your current read.
  • Open to a random page.
  • Share two “teaser” sentences from somewhere on that page.
    • BE CAREFUL NOT TO INCLUDE SPOILERS! (make sure that what you share doesn’t give too much away! You don’t want to ruin the book for others!)
  • Share the title & author, too, so that other Teaser Tuesday participants can add the book to their TBR Lists if they like your teasers!

A few days ago I finally picked up The Mad Scientist’s Daughter by Cassandra Rose Clarke, a book that’s been on my radar for a few years now – ever since I read her Assassin’s Curse duology (a super-fun adventure featuring an assassin, a pirate and a curse). The Mad Scientist’s Daughter has turned out to be quite a different kind of book, however; less fun and more thought-provoking, but really enjoyable nevertheless. It is, at face value, about a girl who falls in love with a robot, but the story is much deeper than it initially appears.

Teaser #1:

His normalcy was contagious. Her mother would approve.

Teaser #2:

The monitor flickered black, then bright blue, then switched to the screensaver of floating, iridescent jellyfish. Finn had severed the connection from his end. He was gone. Her father’s house was gone. Replaced by jellyfish that looked like ghosts.

[Teaser Tuesday was created by MizB over at A Daily Rhythm.]

Thematic Recs: Graphic Novels

Well, it seems like I end up saying this every time I do a new Thematic Recs post, but… it’s been a while since the last time I did a Thematic Recs post! 😉 This time I wanted to share some of my favourite graphic novels with you all.

There are plenty of comics that I love, too (and I expect I’ll be doing a post on them at some point as well), but they’re often very interconnected, and their quality often fluctuates with their creative teams, so they can be difficult to recommend… So for now I’ve decided to stick to graphic novels (i.e. non-serialised publications) as well as a couple of limited-series comics (i.e. comics with a pre-determined number of issues), as their stories tend to be more self-contained than other comics. But enough rambling, and onto the recommendations!

[An aside: I just realised that three out of five of these are blatantly about death, even without going into spoiler territory (which might reveal that they’re all about death! Or not. 😛 ). What that says about my taste, I’m not certain. ^^’ ]

1) The Encyclopedia of Early Earth by Isbel Greenberg. A wonderful story about a storyteller who’s travelling the world in order to find the missing piece of his soul, and telling all kinds of stories to the people he meets along the way. Greenberg’s art style is really cute, and complements the folk-tale feel of her writing perfectly; I stumbled upon this book two years ago, and it’s probably my favourite graphic novel of all time.

2) The River of Lost Souls by Isabel Greenberg. Another Greenberg story, written in a very similar style, though this one is only a few pages long, and was never officially released. It tells the story of a young woman who follows her father into the afterlife, and ends up meeting – and marrying – Charon, the ferryman of souls. I’d actually be quick to recommend any of Greenberg’s work, but this, and The Encyclopedia of Early Earth are probably my favourites.

3) Pride of Baghdad by Brian K. Vaughan. A single-volume limited series that’s set in Baghdad in the aftermath of an American bomb raid, and follows a pride of lions that escaped from the zoo. Beautifully illustrated, and incredibly moving, and apparently inspired by a real pride! Vaughan’s Saga series has become really well known in the last couple of years, but Pride of Baghdad is every bit as excellent.

4) Death: The High Cost of Living by Neil Gaiman. This is a spin-off from the Sandman series, but I’m recommending it here anyway because it’s a completely self-contained story, as well as a fantastic one. The personification of Death must live as a mortal for one day in every century, and this time, she’s spending her time exploring New York with her new friend Sexton – who’s pretty sure she’s crazy. The Sandman has some really great spin-offs, and The High Cost of Living is definitely one of the best.

5) The Undertaking of Lily Chen by Danica Novgorodoff. A strange tale about a young man called Deshi who is tasked with finding a bride for his deceased brother (apparently an old tradition in Northern China). The story is both haunting and incredibly intriguing, and is accompanied by some really amazing watercolour illustrations. I wasn’t the biggest fan of the character design, but that’s a very minor complaint, considering everything else about this fantastic book.

Library Scavenger Hunt: March

I had a few different books in mind as potential fills for this month’s challenge – a book with a map in it – but sadly my library didn’t have any of them in stock, so even though I ended up coming home with three books, I was still feeling rather uninspired, and not at all certain which one I was going to read (or even if I would just go back to the library later in the month). :/ Of course, I did manage to pick just one eventually, and that book was…

FEARLESS
Tim Lott

Little Fearless lives at the City Community Faith School, which claims to be a place of redemption and reform for troubled young girls. In actuality, the school is a prison for 1000 girls who have been taken from their families, and are forced to work in awful conditions and with no hope of ever leaving. But Little Fearless never gives up hope of one day being rescued, and always does her best to inspire all the girls around her to do the same.

What I saw in this book was something that was trying to have the emotional impact and level of social commentary as books like The Handmaid’s Tale (by Margret Atwood) or Nicholas Dane (by Melvin Burgess), but which failed utterly at every turn. The characters were all one-dimensional; they each had a single characteristic, and you can identify that characteristic easily just by hearing their names (there’s Beauty, who is beautiful, Tattle, who talks all the time, and so on, and so on).

But even apart from the characters, the story and setting were both so over-simplified as to sacrifice realism entirely (even though the power of good dystopian fiction lies in the horrifying thought that it’s not completely impossible), and the big twist at the end was both clichéd and predictable. Additionally, although I found this in the YA section of my local library, it really ought to be aimed at younger children, as the reading level is really quite low, and the story not captivating enough to make up for it.

This all comes across as quite damning, but for the record, nothing about this book actively annoyed me, which is the only thing that’s saved it from a one-star review (a book has to be really bad for me to only give it one star)… it’s just boring. There’s a huge amount of dystopian fiction out there these days, and I’d be hard put to it to find one that’s less worth your time than Fearless.

[Find out more about the Library Scavenger Hunt by following this link!]

Review: Sense & Sensibility by Jane Austen (Spoiler-Free)

Upon their father’s untimely death, Elinor and Marianne Dashwood, along with their mother and younger sister, are forced to leave their childhood home of Norland for distant Devonshire, where they must live in significantly reduced circumstances, and with significantly less chance of making good marriages. Love, however, can come from unexpected places – and unexpected people.

Of all of Jane Austen’s books, Sense & Sensibility has long been the one I had the least interest in reading, for reasons that are entirely irrational: I was prejudiced against it when, at the age of about 10, I attempted to watch the 1995 adaptation (featuring Emma Thompson and Kate Winslet) and was rendered bored within the first ten minutes. This isn’t all that surprising, considering the attention span of the average ten-year-old, but I am surprised by how long it’s taken me to give this story another chance…

And I ended up really enjoying it! (Not quite as much as Pride & Prejudice or Emma, but considering my extreme love for both those books, that’s not really saying much.) The story was wonderfully crafted, full of mysteries, and unexpected twists and turns – and although there were quite a few slow parts, I was so absorbed in Austen’s witty writing style that I barely noticed them, and wasn’t bothered by them in the slightest.

Elinor and Marianne both made excellent leads, and contrasted one another perfectly – Marianne wild and romantic, Elinor unfailingly proper and reserved, but no less feeling – and I would be hard pressed to choose a favourite from between them. Marianne comes across as quite silly early on in the book, but goes through some really amazing character development, and the way Elinor internalises all her struggles for appearance’s sake is really heart-wrenching. I also really liked both of their romances, and felt that they were both resolved in a very satisfactory manner, as was the friendship between them, which became much deeper as the story progressed.

My absolute favourite thing about this book, however, was the wide and varied cast of supporting characters. Margaret, the youngest Dashwood sister, was unfortunately rather a non-entity for much of the book, but with that one exception, all of the side characters were remarkably well fleshed-out, and extremely memorable, from the delightfully awful (e.g. John and Fanny Dashwood, the sisters’ half-brother and his wife; the snobbish Mrs. Ferrars), to the perplexing (e.g. Lucy Steele, whose bizarre methods confused me up until the very last pages of the book), to the lovable (e.g. Mrs. Jennings and her daughter Charlotte, who, though not the most proper, were two of the warmest, most friendly characters in the story).