Books that remind me of Dan Stevens as genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov in the Eurovision film

Hi folks,

Before I start, please note the following post has BIG SPOILERS for the Netflix movie Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga. Continue at your own risk…

Now that we’ve got that out of the way, have you watched the Netflix Eurovision film yet? If not, why are you here when you could be watching Dan Stevens do this?

Seriously go watch it and then we can discuss three things we all know and understand about this film:

  1. This film was okay, good, but nothing hugely special.
  2. The fact that Rachel McAdams ended up with bland and boring Will Ferrell who ABANDONED ON HER LIVE ON TELEVISION TO FUCK OFF BACK TO ICELAND is a travesty.
  3. But despite all this, the fact that we were blessed with queer, genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov (portrayed by Dan Stevens) was the blessing I needed in the shitshow that has been 2020 so far.

I can’t remember the last time I was this excited about a character. I watched Eurovision in awe of Dan Stevens’ performance. He gave us a character who, even before the end sequence, was so openly queer, whose performance was so powerful and clothing so perfect, that it literally inspired me to pick up my pirate assassin WIP and write again for the first time in over 6 months because Dan Stevens reminded me so much of my main character. But then we did get the end sequence, where Sigrid is questioning whether Lemtov is gay, where Lemtov responds no, no, there’s no gay people in Russia, so she asks again, asks whether he’s genderfluid and the look he gives the camera as he says no, ‘he/him pronouns’ is the most heartbreaking, awful, despondant look and it BROKE me. Because they didn’t have to imply that not only was Lemtov queer, he was also genderfluid and nonbinary. They could have kept it at asking if he was gay, and I’d have been thrilled that we had this amazing queer character on our screens. But they did imply Lemtov was genderfluid, and this was the first piece of media I recall watching that actually uses the term genderfluid, and the sheer sadness that Dan Stevens was able to evoke in that one look to camera, as if he longed for nothing more than to be able to say who he really was to Sigrid, this woman who has been such an amazing friend to him, is pretty much the best thing to come out of 2020. Minus the whip moment from the video above obviously….

I’ve never longed to be someone more. If I imagine myself as I wish I could be, I would literally imagine Dan Stevens as Alexander Lemtov right now. Sometimes you forget how important it is to see people you identify with on screen, and then something like this happens, you see someone so incredible use the terms you identity with, and then you remember: this is why it’s important. This feeling right now, that combination of empowerment and validation, it’s just unreal.

Anyway if you, like me, would just like to reminisce about all the best moments of Lemtov from this film, thank you Netflix for putting together this video with all of the best parts!

And now, lets actually get to today’s post! I rewatched Eurovision: The Story of Fire Saga this week, and so I decided to talk about some books that remind me of Dan Stevens portrayal of Lemtov so without further ado, here’s some books that remind me of genderfluid icon Alexander Lemtov.

The Mermaid the Witch and the Sea by Maggie Tokuda-Hall

Okay so when talking about a genderfluid icon who quite clearly has the wardrobe of a welldressed pirate, how could I not start with The Mermaid, the Witch and the Sea, the book about a genderfluid pirate?! I’m embarassed to say I still haven’t read it, it has been on my TBR for the past two months since my copy arrived but I keep getting distracted by ARC deadlines. But having seen lots of people rave about this book, I’m hopeful it’s going to live up to the standard that Lemtov has set.

The Scapegracers by Hannah Abigail Clarke

I’m not surprised that book from genderfluid author Hannah Abigail Clarke made it onto this list of books for genderfluid icons. Whilst none of the characters in The Scapegracers are genderfluid, The Scapegracers carries with it a powerful, dramatic, confident, queer atmosphere that is equally as iconic as Lemtov. Sideways, our main lesbian witch, just really fucking reminds me of Alexander Lemtov. Like so much. They both have this air of confidence underneath which they are hiding this soft vulnerability that reveals itself around their friends. Thus: iconic.

Dangerous Remedy by Kat Dunn

If you’ve seen the movie, you know all about Lemtov’s wardrobe and therefore it will make sense when I say this book is on this list because of the French military uniforms and revolution era fashion. Lemtov could’ve been pulled from this book with his flamboyant outfits, I would die for his wardobe, but most especially this jacket and if anyone can direct me to a place I can buy something similar, I will be forever grateful.

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Much like the Lemtov, the team of librarian spies who fight fascists across the US from Gailey’s Upright Women Wanted also have that particularly epic dangerous queer energy. Portrayed as the villain in Eurovision, Lemtov always has an edge of danger that, combined with the sheer power of his queer energy, makes for a character very reminiscent of the team from Upright Women Wanted! These characters are sometimes deadly spies killing fascists and spreading resistence propaganda, and at other times just super super queer.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir

Have you seen this cover? The chaotic queer energy it evokes? Gideon is the chaotic lesbian necromancer from one of the most popular queer SFF books, one that is filled with an air of mystery, and gothic flair that would look right at home in Lemtov’s Edinburgh mansion. But most importantly: Gideon would wear that Lemtov jacket and look damn dapper doing it.

If We Were Villains by M.L Rio

We all know dark academia is gay right? Thus it will make perfect sense when I say that Lemtov’s wardrobe is made for dark academia. Perhaps a slightly more over the top dark academia than we’re used to, but one that celebrates a penchant for gold embroidery as much as Lemtov. Thus it makes perfect sense that Lemtov should walk straight out of the dramatic If We Were Villains, whose over the top love of Shakespeare can match Lemtov’s drama.

I hope you all enjoyed this post as much I enjoyed writing it! It really just gave me the excuse to rewatch Lion of Love on repeat for two hours as I wrote. Was anyone else as in love with Lemtov as I am? What books remind you of this genderfluid icon?

30 Days of Pride: Enemies to lovers

Hi everyone,

Enemies (and rivals) to lovers is most definitely my favourite trope. There’s just something about hate to love which just SOARS above the rest: the intensity, the passion, I just love it!! I did plan to do one post featuring all of my favourite tropes. But there were so many enemies to lovers favourites that I decided to split the post. So today you get my favourite enemies to lovers, and tomorrow you get all my other favourite tropes! (And a further update at the time of scheduling: I actually ended up having to break these down even further because I have too many books and too many favourite tropes so prepare for three days of tropey fun!)

Crier’s War by Nina Varela

What could I start with but the epic sapphic enemies-to-lovers fantasy that is Crier’s War?! (With the additional trope of ‘there’s only one bed’ to really make this the best book it can be!) Blending science fiction and fantasy in a Made versus Human post-war world, where Made rule over the human population, and the heir to the Made empire falls in love with a human servant. This is full of action and drama and tension which is everything we want in an enemies-to-lovers ship.

The Fever King by Victoria Lee

Pretty much my favourite book ever, it’s no surprise The Fever King has my favourite trope ever. On one side, Noam, son to immigrant parents who wakes up with magic after a virus outbreak. On the other side, Dara, the adopted son to the most powerful man in Carolinia, Calix Leher. Noam and Dara are full of mistrust and anger at each other, their positions and just how exactly they want to overthrow the government, but that results in such an intense and powerful romance that it literally breaks my heart every time I read.

We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia

I think I hear much less noise about this book than I do Crier’s War, which makes me rather upset because this is just as amazing a sapphic enemies-to-lovers (in fact I think I prefer We Set the Dark on Fire). In We Set the Dark on Fire, two wives fall in lover with each other instead of the husband they’re supposed to serve. There’s also lots of discussion about immigration, it’s a very relevant book that compares to situations on the US-Mexico border today which makes it so poweful a book and one I really wish I heard more people scream about.

The Luminous Dead by Caitlin Sterling

If The Fever King is my favourite enemies-to-lovers then this is a close second! This is an absolutely terrifying, claustraphoic read about a caver who gets trapped in a caving system. She’s trying to find a way to escape, with only the help of the woman on the other end of her headset who’s monitoring her caving suit. It’s so tense and panic-inducing with just two characters and one, very tight setting, with a character who begins to lose control of reality, no longer sure what is real and what isn’t.

Gideon the Ninth by Tasmyn Muir

We all know Gideon the Ninth is one of the highlights of the enemies-to-lovers trope. In Gideon, we have pretty much mortal enemies: Gideon, a cavalier, and Harrowhark, bone witch necromancer who wears a corset of bones and skull facepaint. The two must work together to help Harrowhark be chosen as the Emperor’s necromancer with a series of challenges and mysteries that require a mastermind to solve. Enter Harrowhark’s clever brilliance and Gideon’s brash ‘charge into battle without a thought’ness.

The Sound of Stars by Alechia Dow

Not much could get more enemies to lovers than ‘human and the robot alien who’s overtaken Earth’. But that’s what we get in The Sound of Stars! This is a YA science fiction dystopia about an alien race called the Ilori who overtake Earth and outlaw any form of human expression (including books and music). When Ellie is caught with a private library, she and her captor must work together to save Earth.

Beyond the Black Door by A.M Strickland

Beyond the Black Door is a lush and gorgeous fantasy with a villain romance and asexual heroine. It’s a beautiful world where Soulwalkers exist, people who can travel into people’s souls whilst they sleep. Kamai is a soulwalker, but in everyone’s soul she walks, a black door follows her. And Kamai wants to know what’s behind the black door.

Amelia Westlake by Erin Gough

Amelia Westlake is such a funny, feminist, and sapphic Aussie YA about rivals Will, the school bad girl, and Harriet, the golden girl and prefect of Rosemead Grammar. The two join forces to try expose the blatantly misogynistic practices at the school. And obv, fall in love, because this is a list about enemies (or in this case, rivals) to lovers.

Tell Me How You Really Feel by Aminah Mae Safi

Another excellent sapphic rivals to lovers YA contemporary! This one features a budding film director and the school’s cheerleader captain (YESSS QUEER CHEERLEADERS) who are forced to work together to create a film even though they hate each other.

This is How You Lose the Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

If you want epic time travel + spies + sapphic enemies to lovers, then this is the book for you. Blue and Red are spies on opposite sides of a war across time. The two write letters to each other growing from battlefield taunts to a love that will cross time and space itself to survive. (God that was cheesy. But it’s so true).

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

I don’t think you can get much more enemies-to-lovers than a Captain Hook x Peter Pan romance. In Peter Darling, Peter Pan is returning to Neverland years later, now all grown up. But when he gets back, things have changes, the Lost Boys have grown up too and now their tricks are more like war, and Peter’s old rival is suddenly like super hot?!

The Abyss Surrounds Us by Emily Skrutskie

Pirates and monsters and boats oh my. This enemies-to-lovers sapphic adventure follows Cassandra, who has spent her whole life breeding and training monsters to protect ships. But then she’s kidnapped and forced to raise a monster pup for a pirate ship, and kinda-also-sorta has feelings for one of the pirates.

Red, White & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston

With a book that opens with the two main characters having a fight and knocking over a very expensive cake at a wedding, you know it’s going to be a brilliant rivals to lovers book. Especially when the two characters are the Prince of England and the son of the President of the United States.

The Henna Wars by Adiba Jaigirdar

A recent 2020 release, The Henna Wars published in May this year. It’s a YA contemporary with two girls who set up rival henna businesses for a school project, but one is appropriating the others culture. But when the competition is sabataged, the two’s lives are further entwined and one just can’t quite get over her crush. I’m planning on reading this one this and am so excited as it’s one of my most anticipated releases of the year!

The Dark Tide by Alicia Jasinska

Yes this list is heavily sapphic and I do not apologise for it, especially when they all sound this fucking good. The Dark Tide is a soon to be released (already released in Australia, August 4 US release!) sapphic enemies-to-lovers featuring a Witch Queen who must kill one innocent life every year to stop her island from sinking, and the girl who sacrifices herself to the Witch Queen in exchange for her friend’s life. As the two fall for each other and the dark tide floods the streets of the island, the two must decide whether to save each other, themselves, or the island residents.

Do you love this trope as much as me? What’s your favourite enemies to lovers book?

Author interview: Gabriela Martins, Keep Faith (and GIVEAWAY!!)

So today I’m here with quite possibly THE most exciting post I’ve done on my blog so far! You may have heard of the soon to be published Keep Faith, a short story anthology written by the most amazing group of authors, all about the intersection of faith, religion and queerness. Well today I am here with the absolutely lovely Gabhi Martins, editor and author of Keep Faith to chat about this brilliant anthology that you 100% are going to want to read.

Oh, and did I mention we’re having a GIVEAWAY?! Stay tuned to the end of the post to find out how to win a copy of this marvellous anthology! And thank you again Gabhi for speaking with me about your new anthology and what faith means to you.

Rach: Could you tell me a little bit about where you got the idea for this anthology from? What made you want to talk about faith and queerness? 

Gabhi: I was talking to a friend, and they told me that their girlfriend had been expelled from home and church for being queer. I really wanted to help, but I didn’t have the $$$ to make an impact in the situation. So I asked my friend if they thought it was a good idea to get a group of badass authors together and start an anthology, with all proceeds going to their girlfriend. My friend was thrilled, and so I started talking to authors I thought would like to help!

You have such an amazing group of authors! Can you describe some of the stories we’ll expect to see in the book? 

Oh yes, yes they are amazing. I am so excited for everyone to read their art, because they truly took it to the next level with these stories. They are so different and so incredible. We have everything from science-fiction to high fantasy to contemporary and romantic comedy. One of the stories made me cry. One of the stories made me laugh so much my belly ached. One of the stories made teenage me feel seen. Honestly, they are just good concepts. I couldn’t have chosen a better group of people, and they couldn’t have chosen a better way to tell their stories. I honestly believe there’s something for everyone in there.

The blurb for Keep Faith says “and faith meaning whatever you want it to mean”. So if you had only 5 words, what does faith mean to you? 

Believing and trusting in yourself.

I was drawn to this anthology as soon as you described it to me because faith is something close to so many people and in my experience, when it intersects with my queerness, it has often caused difficult challenges that I have sometimes struggled to cope with it. Was it challenging to write/edit something that is so personal?

We definitely have some very personal stories in the anthology, and reading the doubts and fears of being queer while religious (or while inserted in a religious context), there’s a part of me that felt uncomfortable. But the authors were very skillful in approaching faith and queerness in a way that felt respectful and rawly honest at the same time. I tell a little of my own personal journey with faith in the editor’s letter, but spoiler alert: not very pretty. It saddens me because what I’ve learned is that faith is never judgmental, is never almighty-and-righteous in the sense that it knows all. Faith is kind and loving. At the core of any religion or spiritual practice there’s love. Love for yourself. Love for people. Love for your god. But when religion translates from concept into a practice ruled by humankind, we humans have a tendency of spoiling it just a bit with what we personally believe, prejudice and all. We are imperfect. We are judgmental. We think we’re better than our peers. Not god. (Or God. Or Allah. Or the Universe. Or Nature.)

What would you say to child you about faith and queerness, knowing what you do now?

It doesn’t matter what you call it and it doesn’t matter what rituals you practice to be reminded of that. We are here to love each other, and we are here to grow together. Progress and love are the universal laws.

The book

Goodreads blurb: Keep faith, in the broad sense of the word. It doesn’t have to be a religion, unless you want it to be. It doesn’t have to speak about the universe, unless you want it to. It doesn’t have to be about anyone but yourself. Keep faith, in other planets and other houses; be it in the face of danger, grief, or while you spread your arms and laugh. Keep faith the same way you keep hope, bright and shiny, ever present. Keep faith in all your queer, beautiful self. Because you deserve it.

This is an anthology of 14 short stories, by 14 queer authors, where faith and queerness intersect. Incidental, purposeful, we-exist-and-that’s-why queerness. And faith meaning whatever you want it to mean.

Keep Faith has an absolutely amazing team of authors, all who bring such a unique perspective and voice to the anthology. Hear from Adiba Jaigirdar, Bogi Takács, C.T. Callahan, Elly Ha, Gabriela Martins, Julia Rios, Kate Brauning, Kess Costales, Mary Fan, Mayara Barros, Megan Manzano, Shenwei Chang, Sofia Soter, and Vanshika Prusty.

Keep Faith is publishing on September first, as ebook only. You can preorder the anthology on gumroad here! As Gabhi mentioned, all proceeds go towards an amazing cause so please do spread the word about Keep Faith to reach as many readers as possible. To hear more about this wonderful anothology, check back into my blog on Sunday to see a full review!

Giveaway time….

I hope this post has made you as keen to read this as I was! Hence I am SO incredibly excited to be hosting a giveaway to win a copy of Keep Faith. To enter, comment below, or quote retweet to my announcement tweet (here) telling me in five words what faith means to you. For an extra entry, you can follow myself and Gabhi on Twitter! The giveaway closes next Wednesday (4 September) and a winner will be randomly selected and annouced on Twitter on Thursday 5 September!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Top 5 Tuesday: Books I don’t talk about enough

Hi again, for this week’s Top 5 Tuesday! And what an interesting topic it is this week… There are definitely books I shout about constantly so I’m so glad to sing about some of the books which I 100% need to talk about more often. Because they are awesome.

Love from A to Z by S.K Ali

I read this book earlier this year and it is one of the most beautiful love stories ever. It is just so incredible and utterly perfect! Love from A to Z follows Adam and Zayneb as they meet and fall in love. There is such as strong Muslim voice in this book – I adored seeing how religion guided the relationship. Zayneb is one of the fiercest, stongest characters – she refuses to back down from what’s right and is so driven. As well as a love story, this book also discusses topics such as Islamaphobia and discrimination, with the author using her own experience for several scenes in the book. Love from A to Z is such a powerful story about love and strength and the strength of faith. You can read my full review of this title here.

I Still Dream by James Smythe

So this book actually featured on last week’s Top 5 Dystopian but I’m also featuring it here because it is one of my absolute favourite sci-fi, dystopian novels but I never seem to talk about it which is so wrong. It’s a brilliant tale about artificial intelligence and what happens when humans choose to input morality and control (or not….) into AI. It’s a very character driven story, like most of my SFF favourites, and follows Laura, who creates her own AI, from her teenage years until she’s an old woman. It’s a brilliant look at how humanity will likely destroy itself for power.

Keep This to Yourself by Tom Ryan

Keep This to Yourself is a queer murder mystery, set in a small country village by the sea. The setting really shines in this book – it creates such creepy and tense scenes, with rough seas and caves and the small-town village vibe which always seems kind of creepy to me. (I grew up in a tiny village so clearly this is something I picked up from my years there…) The fourth murder by serial killer ‘The Catalog Killer’ in this small town was that of high school hero Connor, beloved by the inhabitants of Camera Cove. After this murder, the serial killer disappeared. Mac, best friend of Connor, is unsatisfied with the resolution of the case so begins his own investigation, but it reveals more than he could ever have wished for… Great mystery, awesome to see a queer relationship and such an interesting setting!

The Afterward by E.K Johnston

The Afterward has such a different feel and tone than any other fantasy I’ve read – instead of focussing on the quest, it focusses on what happens after, on how the heroes settle back into everyday life. It’s a very quiet book and really does feel a breath of fresh air in such a heavy, action central genre, hence I really want to give this book the praise it deserves because I think it might often be overshadowed by those more action heavy books. This is another superb queer story – I love both Kalanthe and Olga, our two very different MCs as they try to forget their feelings for each other that developed during the quest and move on with their lives. Fantastic characters, brilliant relationship and awesome female knights! Check out my full review of this book here!

Birthday by Meredith Russo

Oh god this book is just an emotional and heartbreaking read. What a spectacular book! The book follows Eric and Morgan each year on their shared birthday. This is a brilliant way to tell the story, which focuses on Morgan and her journey to transition. This book has such a harrowing and honest depiction of depression, and really shows how strong Morgan is to survive her journey. It is a potentially triggering story, with a graphic depiction of attempted suicide, transphobia, homophobia, and depression so please take note of warnings if you do want to read. A powerful, incredible story of survial and strength.

That’s it for this week’s Top 5 books I don’t talk about enough! Let me know if you love any of these books as much as I do!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Title: Girl Mans Up by M-E Girard

Publisher: HarperCollins

Publication date: 6 Sept 2016

Genre: Contemporary| Young adult

Page extent: 400 pages

Goodreads blurb: All Pen wants is to be the kind of girl she’s always been. So why does everyone have a problem with it? They think the way she looks and acts means she’s trying to be a boy—that she should quit trying to be something she’s not. If she dresses like a girl, and does what her folks want, it will show respect. If she takes orders and does what her friend Colby wants, it will show her loyalty. But respect and loyalty, Pen discovers, are empty words. Old-world parents, disintegrating friendships, and strong feelings for other girls drive Pen to see the truth–that in order to be who she truly wants to be, she’ll have to man up.

I really struggled to decide how to rate this book – there were parts I really liked and parts I really didn’t. I struggled a little to get through the book, given the misogynistic language from the main character, but there was a really great brother-sister relationship, and a unique exploration of gender in a way I haven’t seen previously.

The book follows Pen, a girl who doesn’t want to be seen as a girly girl. She likes gaming and cuts her hair short, and wants to be seen as one of the boys (even though she doesn’t want to be a boy). We follow Pen as she becomes friends with her best friend Colby’s ex, and finds a girlfriend of her own. The book has some quite deep content discussing gender, sexuality, teen pregnancy, sexual assault, and homophobia.

Let’s start with the good. I don’t think I’ve ever read someone like Pen in YA before, so this does give a very unique look at gender fluidity. Pen’s struggle throughout the book to be who she wants as her school, her friends and her parents all fight against her is at times difficult to read. She faces a lot of discrimination and hate – all her friends and parents are truly awful. Pen does grow throughout the book as she realises how to stand up for herself and be true to her identity.

I also loved the excellent brother-sister relationship. Johnny was probably my favourite character. He’s a very protective brother but not in one of those really terrible ‘I know better than you’ ways. He’s protective of her but still allows her to have agency and be herself. I also thought Blake was great – I loved how their relationship developed, it was very cute!

Unfortunately, I found most of my main complains about the story with Pen herself. Pen has some very misogynistic views, regularly using words like ‘pussy’ as an insult, and thinking girly girls are lesser than her. Whilst Pen becomes friends with a more ‘girly’ girl, I don’t really think these views were challenged much. I also just generally thought Pen wasn’t a very nice person. Despite the excellent brother, Pen isn’t very nice to him until the very end of the book, always shouting at him and using him as a barrier between her and her parents – in Johnny’s words, being ‘a hotheaded little idiot’. Her friends are also just awful people, and Pen is perfectly fine with this and their treatment of others – including one of her oldest friends! – until it begins to affect her more directly.

I was really disappointed with this book, I expected to enjoy it a lot more. For a book that has such great gender rep to then have equally bad gender rep, it just didn’t work for me. But a big shout-out to a really great older brother. Oh, I did also like all the video game references! Blake trying to get Pen to like Zelda was awesome.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Title: The Wicker King by K. Ancrum

Publisher: Imprint

Publication date: 31 Oct 2017

Genre: Fantasy | Young adult

Page extent: 305 pages

Holy fuck was this a read. What a twisted and stunning novel combining mental illness, fantasy and soft, broken, co-dependent boys. The writing is so lyrical and poetic, it’s just absolutely stunning.

I was tossing between both of K. Ancrum’s book for my Pride TBR list – The Wicker King or The Weight of the Stars. I decided on The Wicker King because I really love reading books with good mental health representation as it’s very close to my heart – and it did not disappoint. August learns that best friend Jack is beginning to hallucinate a fantasy world, one he can interact with but which no else can. The halluncinations seem to grow worse and worse as Jack imagines himself in the midst of a quest within the world. August, trying to support his friend, allows him to play out the fantasy, and helps Jack to fulfil the quest.

I don’t think I’ve ever read a book quite like this, not least because of the styling. You most definitely should pick up a print copy of this book, because the way the book is printed is phenomenal. Ink slowly covers more and more of the page, as Jack’s illness progresses and it is such a powerful tool. I haven’t ever seen a book do something like that before, the closest I can think of is Illuminae which I read on a Kindle and so it didn’t really work.

K. Ancrum has such a beautiful and emotive prose – I felt like someone had punched me in the chest the whole way through. It was brutal in a way not many books are. It was so gutrenching to see August realise how much help Jack needed but not know how to help him. With neglectful adults, he does the only thing he knows how to – he tries to help Jack himself. Their relationship is so twisted and interesting. August wants so much to give his whole self to Jack, and be under his control, he would do anything for him. And Jack is just as entranced, wanting to control and give August what he needs.

This is such a difficult book to review, because I’m still numb from the read. When I think about it, I struggle to find words because it is such a different, unique and magnificant book. All I can say, is that is it absolutely stunning and you will feel absolutely torn apart as you read it.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Title: Missing, Presumed Dead by Emma Berquist

Publisher: Greenwillow Books

Publication date: 21 May 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Young adult

Page extent: 384 pages

Thank you Emma (the author) and Vicky Who Reads for running the giveaway in which I won a copy of this book.

Missing, Preusmed Dead combines elements of mystery, thriller, contemporary fantasy, romance and a dark, gritty atmosphere to create an intense and heart-racing book about ghosts and lonliness and death.

This book tells the story of Lexi, a girl who can sense when and how someone will die, and Jane, the girl Lexi didn’t try to save. When Jane returns as an angry ghost, Lexi tries to hunt down the murderer to help Jane. They get caught up in a bigger mystery though, as it turns out the murderer has killed before and plans to kill again.

This book was a LOT darker than I expected – which I am SO happy with. It was such a dark, gritty and grim setting and atmosphere. It really felt like we were halfway between life and death, you could sense the ‘wrongness’ in the atmosphere which was so effective in portraying Lexi’s state of mind.

I love the way Missing, Presumed Dead explores mental illness in a fantasy world. It’s so rare to read a book which looks at the mental impact of having magic. Lexi can sense when people will die. If she touches them, she views their death in all the horrifically, gruesome ways it happens. She can’t stand being around people because of it. She can’t stand crowds or friends or anything living because all she can see and taste and smell and hear are their deaths. So she’s lonely, depressed, struggling to find a reason to live. To get away from the constant sense of death, Lexi checks herself into a psychiatric ward when it becomes too much, the only place she can get any quiet. The way Lexi’s mental health is examined is absolutely phenomenal. Emma writes with such intense emotion and I felt a lump in my throat the whole book. It was just so well written and felt so real.

I also loved the mystery/thriller aspect of the book. I was absolutely hooked on the mystery, wanting to find out who or what was killing people. I loved the added creepiness of the paranormal activity. I loved the idea that ghosts are created from the energy of someone’s death – so those killed violently are angry, venegful ghosts. It was such an interesting theory, and seeing how Lexi’s power could interact with the dead to push them ‘on’ was so cool! I loved that the mystery held paranomal elements to it as well, so you were never really sure what was going on.

This book wasn’t quite what I expected – instead, it was a darker, grittier but SO FANTASTIC magical thriller. The portrayal of mental illness was so well done, and the way magic interacted with mental illness felt very unique. Plus, queer girls. Which is the cherry on top of an extremely great cupcake.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Title: Shatter the Sky by Rebecca Kim Wells

Publisher: Simon & Schuster Books for Young Readers

Publication date: 30 July 2019

Genre: Fantasy | Young adult

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.

Do you like dragons? Do you like bisexual heroines? Then this is the book for you! Shatter the Sky is a fun and unique new fantasy world with a fantastic magic system, cool as hell dragons and a bisexual MC.

Maren and Kaia are best friends and lovers, living in Ilvera under the rule of their Zefedi oppressors. Ilvera had been the birthplace of dragons, but the Zefedi conquerors had stole the dragons, now training them in captivity as war machines. When Kaia is violently kidnapped by the emperor’s Seers (the Aurati), Maren embarks on a journey to steal a dragon and rescue her.

I don’t think you can get more ‘me’ than bi girls + dragons, and this book definitely did not disappoint. I am in love with the dragons, and the magic system around them. The dragons can be controlled via a set of oils, some of which encourage the dragon to fight, others which make them go to sleep. I haven’t seen something quite like this before and it was so interesting! Maren manages to blag her way into the dragon training castle, and in her investigations ends up as the apprentice to Neve, who works in something called an Aromatory. There, Maren learns how to make the oils which control the dragons. The bonding process/training of the dragons is just so dark in a book that does have a lighter writing style. The dragons seem able to think and understand like humans, and can see into the minds of others. And yet they are reduced to nothing by use of these drugs to force them to behave in certain ways.

I also thought the Aurati were extremely interesting, and I wish we’d found out more about that organisation (hopefully this will come later in the series!) The Aurati seem so evil from Maren’s POV, and as the book progresses we do get some more info about how their seer powers work which I won’t describe as it would give a lot away, but it is SO COOL, and I really hope we find out more about them in the second book.

I absolutely love seeing bisexuality in fantasy – particularly when it’s the main character! It’s so rare and I love that it was just part of the story and not a big deal at all. In saying that, the romance between Kaia and Maren was actually my least favourite part of the story and the reason I didn’t give this book 5 stars. I really struggled with Kaia, who just doesn’t seem like a very nice person at all. Their relationship felt more like hero worship from Maren, with Kaia just enjoying that worship and thinking she deserved it – there didn’t seem to be much more depth. I struggled with the first 50 pages or so because of this, as I just couldn’t root for their relationship and wasn’t particularly interested in hearing Maren mope about Kaia.

However once Kaia is kidnapped and Maren embarks on her resuce mission, the story and characters really pick up. Maren really developed without the shadow of Kaia over her into a powerful and strong character, angry at the empire and willing to do whatever it takes to resuce Kaia and free the dragons. I really like her friendship with Sev, a guard at the dragon training castle who seems to be hiding as many secrets as Maren is. I like how Maren’s feelings develop for him, from thinking he is just a tool she can use to help her, to be willing to save his life. I’m interested to see how these relationships pan out in the second book. Maren has changed so much and it really lets her see Kaia in a different light. As much as I would have LOVED to see a f/f relationship at the core of this book because I want as many high fantasy f/f relationships as possible, I don’t want it to be with Kaia so I hope the relationship with Sev is developed more – Sev is willing to fight to change things, whilst Kaia just doesn’t seem to be (yet at least) and so I feel Sev and Maren are much more suited to each other. But I do oh so love that the book actually portrays bisexuality honestly.

There are also a few other secondary characters who I thought were really interesting and definitely hiding something. I really want to see more of Neve, the head of the aromatory. She seemed less than keen on the empire, and yet still worked to train the dragons. We don’t see how Maren’s actions affected her at the dragon training castle, so I’d love to see more of her. I also am really keen to see more of Rowena and Melchior – they both seem like super fierce (also 100% got queer vibes for them both!!) women and I hope they feature more in the second book.

This was a really exciting start to a new fantasy trilogy and I am so excited to see where it goes (especially after that cliffhanger!!) I adore the dragons and the magic system, and can’t wait to see the ‘lil baby dragon grows up! Maren grew so much across this book into a fierce and determined woman and I am really excited to see her set fire to the empire.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Title: Girls of Paper and Fire by Natasha Ngan

Publisher: Hodder & Stoughton

Publication date: 6 November 2018

Genre: Fantasy | Young adult

Page count: 384 pages

Synopsis: Each year, eight beautiful girls are chosen as Paper Girls to serve the king. It’s the highest honor they could hope for…and the most cruel.

But this year, there’s a ninth girl. And instead of paper, she’s made of fire.

In this lush fantasy, Lei is a member of the Paper caste, the lowest and most oppressed class in Ikhara. She lives in a remote village with her father, where the decade-old trauma of watching her mother snatched by royal guards still haunts her. Now, the guards are back, and this time it’s Lei they’re after–the girl whose golden eyes have piqued the king’s interest.

Over weeks of training in the opulent but stifling palace, Lei and eight other girls learn the skills and charm that befit being a king’s consort. But Lei isn’t content to watch her fate consume her. Instead, she does the unthinkable–she falls in love. Her forbidden romance becomes enmeshed with an explosive plot that threatens the very foundation of Ikhara, and Lei, still the wide-eyed country girl at heart, must decide just how far she’s willing to go for justice and revenge.

Presented by James Patterson, Natasha Ngan’s lyrical, searing, visceral fantasy, Girls of Paper and Fire, will remind us how precious freedom is–and the price we must pay to achieve it.

Why had I not already read this book?!?! I somehow missed the hype when this book was released last year, but OMG it is incredible and I can’t believe I waited till now to read. Girls of Paper and Fire weaves a beautifully detailed yet dark fantasy world, where each year, eight girls are chosen to become consorts of the King. The girls are chosen from the Paper class, the lowest class, those without any magical demon abilities. But this year, things are different. Lei is kidnapped from her home by the King’s Generals, due to her unusual eyes, in the hope the gift of a ninth girl will win the General favour in the eyes of the King. Lei is forced into a life as the King’s consort, with comfort and friendships formed on one hand, but torn apart from her family and facing sexual assault regularly at the King’s hand. This book is very hard-hitting and does discuss and picture sexual assault on page. But it is discussed in a very delicate yet empowering way, more about how the girls can recover and feel strong again than the act itself.

Natasha’s writing is just absolutely exquisite! I was hooked from the very first page – I started the book just before going to sleep one night and what an absolute regret that was the next day because I couldn’t stop reading and it was such a struggle to stop thinking about the world and actually go sleep. The characters are all so vivid, from Lei who struggles with finding happiness and friendship with the other Paper girls, knowing her family must be devasted; to Wren, who is so silent and mysterious but slowly opens up to Lei; to Aoki, who is manipulated into loving the Demon King; to the Demon King himself, who is so inherently evil and wears his evil so arrogantly, he just forces you to pay attention to him when reading.

The worldbuilding was really well done, though I wish we’d seen a little more with regards the demon castes (Steel and Moon). I really liked seeing the combination of animal demons with human traits – I am an absolute sucker for any fantasy with cat/human creatures (and really any creature based magic). I wish we’d seen more of the shamans, the King’s magicians who wield some incredible magic but it’s never really hugely explained. I also really liked the hints about how too much magic has been taken, so the world is fighting back with something called ‘The Sickness’ – I’m guessing this will be revealed more in the later books so cannot wait to get some more info on what exactly the sickness is.

I really liked that Lei wasn’t some superhuman ‘destined to save the world’ girl. She struggles like everyone else, and fails, and still fights back. Her relationship with Wren was so lovely – MORE F/F FANTASY PLEEEEASE – and their relationship just felt so soft and gentle and special (in huge contrast to their forced relationship with the King).

All in all, this book was incredible, I couldn’t stop reading and I really wish it was November already so I can read the sequel!

Paws out,
Rach + Draco

Book review: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Khan

Title: The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali by Sabina Ali

Publisher: Scholastic Press

Publication date: 29 January 2019

Genre: Contemporary | Young adult

Page count: 336 pages

Synopsis: Seventeen-year-old Rukhsana Ali tries her hardest to live up to her conservative Muslim parents’ expectations, but lately she’s finding that harder and harder to do. She rolls her eyes instead of screaming when they blatantly favor her brother and she dresses conservatively at home, saving her crop tops and makeup for parties her parents don’t know about. Luckily, only a few more months stand between her carefully monitored life in Seattle and her new life at Caltech, where she can pursue her dream of becoming an engineer.

But when her parents catch her kissing her girlfriend Ariana, all of Rukhsana’s plans fall apart. Her parents are devastated; being gay may as well be a death sentence in the Bengali community. They immediately whisk Rukhsana off to Bangladesh, where she is thrown headfirst into a world of arranged marriages and tradition. Only through reading her grandmother’s old diary is Rukhsana able to gain some much needed perspective. 

Rukhsana realizes she must find the courage to fight for her love, but can she do so without losing everyone and everything in her life?

The Love and Lies of Rukhsana Ali is an emotionally hard hitting story about a queer Muslim girl and arranged marriage, an excellent look at how different cultures and generations’ views can entwine and change.

First of all, a huge shout out to the strong intersectional rep in this book – can all books please be like this? As well as Rukhsana herself, there are lots of other queer, Muslim characters which was so great to see, both in America and in Bangladesh. Rukhsana is in her last year of high school and she’s recently been accepted to Caltech on scholarship, but her parents don’t put as much importance on her studies, and instead try to push her into marriage. When Rukhsana’s mother catches her kissing her girlfriend, Ariana, they are devastated and disgusted. They accompany Rukhsana to Bangladesh, to visit her sick grandmother – but as it turns out, they have other plans for Rukhsana in Bangladesh. Thus ensues a lot of emotionally difficult scenes as Rukhsana is forced into a life she really doesn’t want, but yet doesn’t know how to fight as she doesn’t want to let her family down.

I thought it was particularly interesting reading about Rukhsana’s family dynamics – her extremely close friendship with her brother, her accepting and loving grandmother, and then her more difficult parents whom she loves and wants to please, but she just can’t accept what they want for her. I also really liked the support Rukhsana had from other members of the Bengali community. Rukhsana, as well as her parents, definitely both grew across the story. Her parents, in their opinons and behaviour regarding the future path for Rukhsana, and Rukhsana herself in her assumptions about the Bengali community. Whilst at the beginning, Rukhsana found herself doubting that others in the Bengali community would understand or support her, she found herself with so many allies like Irfan and Shaila and began to realise that she wasn’t alone. Her relationship with her grandmother was especially touching, and it was really difficult to read the diary scenes and see what her grandmother lived through.

I wasn’t hugely invested in the central romance – Ariana + Rukhsana. Ariana herself really just seems like a complete arse so I struggled to root for them. Ariana doesn’t understand what Rukhsana is going through, refuses to listen and believe her when she talks about her family, and so I really wished Rukhsana had fought more for herself rather than for Ariana, someone who I didn’t feel really cared enough for her. In saying that, I think it was really interesting to see the two different cultures of Ariana and Rukhsana interact. Ariana with her strong American background doesn’t understand or acknowledge the close familial relationships in the Bengali communities (and so doesn’t understand why Rukhsana won’t just leave); and Rukhsana faces discrimination from Ariana’s family (and Ariana herself is pushed to end their relationship) but they still fight for their love. So whilst I wish Ariana had been a better person so I could root for their relationship, I think the interaction of their cultures was extremely important to see.

I also really wasn’t a fan of Rukhsana and Ariana’s social group, for the same reasons as above – they weren’t willing to listen or believe Rukhsana at all which was so awful. But, there is a FANTASTIC fierce scene where Rukhsana stands up to them which is awesome.

I do wish we’d seen some more of other characters rather than the focus on Ariana. I really liked Irfan, someone in the US who Rukhsana’s family try to match her with. Shaila was also really fantastic. She is Rukhsana’s cousin, who lives in Bangladesh and so is faced with the same issues and concerns about marriage as Rukhsana is but in a different country. Aamir, Rukhsana’s brother also got very little focus, which was a real shame as they have such a lovely and close relationship.

This book deals with a very difficult subject, and at times very emotionally does so. There are so many fantastic characters who I just wish there’d been more of a focus on. But there are some great dynamics and it was really interesting to read about the pull different cultures had on Rukhsana.

Paws out,
Rach + Draco