Tag Archives: LGBT

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1)

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Before I say anything else, I’m just going to oooh and aaah over this GORGEOUS cover for  awhile…

Danny Tozer is 15 years old and transgender. But no ones knows. Her family life centres around a father determined to make a man of her, and she has endured a lifetime of bullying already from the kids at school that see her as an easy target. But one day, as she crouches behind a concrete barrier outside the mall to secretly paint her toenails, the world’s greatest superhero fights an epic battle right in front of her and dies. And in keeping with tradition, his mantle of power transfers to the witness and transforms her into her true self. A gorgeous girl. But with superpowers. And she is not going back, no matter what.

Whether she likes it or not, Danny is the only one that can defeat the supervillain that killed Dreadnought. But in order to do so, she has to accept that she is worthy of the mantle, worthy of the respect.  And that might be harder to do than saving the world.

This is Danny’s origin story. As with most superhero origin stories, Danny comes of age in a world that wants to deny her existence, and even deny her the right to be herself and to have her powers. As a transgender queer girl, her coming of age is particularly difficult. Her parents deny her existence, her father hurling abuse while her mother insists that she wants her son back. Fellow superheroes are split on her right to become Dreadnought, with some supportive, and some angered by her insistence on being defined by her correct gender. Her best friend hurls insults when she refuses to date him and fractures their relationship irreparably.

I do think that Danny is the most fleshed out character in the novel, and rightly so. She is self-aware before her magical transition, and her growth is steady throughout the novel. She still calls herself trans after the world sees her as a girl, and she is proud of her identity. I like that even after becoming the world’s most powerful superhero, she still is afraid of falling behind in school. (Oh, if only my children were a 10th as responsible, and without superpowers…) I found her fear incredibly heartbreaking and realistic, her fear of her parents and the hold they have over her, her fear of accepting the mantle of Dreadnought, her fear of not being good enough.

But the supporting characters are a bit flat in places, and I am hoping that, as this is the first book in a series, they will become more rounded as the series continues.  With the exception of Calamity and Doc Impossible, the other superheroes are a bit two-dimensional. Both Calamity, who is so important to Danny (please let them get together!  Please!), and Doc Impossible develop nicely as the story progresses, and although I had suspicions that something wasn’t on the up and up with the Doc, I had NO idea of the twist at the end. This was NOT what I was expecting!

Danny’s parents are, sadly, what they appear to be.  And even though Danny has a certain amount of understanding and love for her mother and her situation, and I understand where it comes from, in the end, she does not choose her daughter and loses my sympathy.

The pace of the novel builds through the first half, setting up an explosive conclusion that is not only highlighted by the hero/villain climax, but also Danny’s confrontation with her parents. It isn’t it all rainbows and sunshine and bench-pressing rail cars, however; Danny’s freedom comes at great personal cost.

The world building in this novel isn’t front and centre, but rather steadily in the background, offering an incredible framework for the story to weave through. It is our world, but our world with superheroes who are tasked to keep us safe, our world where the government is still in charge, our world where politics still cover everything, from the ranks of the superheroes to the subtle class differences of those that have some abilities, to the normal people who just go about their daily lives.

Through the novel is a subtle humour with a message underneath. When Danny becomes her true self, that happens to be a girl with the looks and proportions of an airbrushed underwear model. Because that is what society has told her how a girl should look. But the messages are delivered with a nice wit and are not preachy.

The main character is brilliant. The world building is fabulous. The pacing is perfect. But another enemy approaches, and it will be the most terrifying one the world has ever faced.

This is a novel that anyone can read, it has humour, pain, strength, conflict, and triumph. And it is the first in a trilogy, so the love can only continue.

Dreadnought (Nemesis #1) was published January 24th, 2017 by Diversion Publishing.

And I Darken (The Conquerer’s Saga #1)

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Told from the alternating viewpoints of Lada, Princess of Wallachia, and her younger brother Radu,  And I Darken re-imagines Vlad the Impaler as a girl. With lots and lots and lots of stabbing, both of the physical and the back variety.

Lada Dragwlya is the daughter of the Prince of Wallachia, but he sold her and younger brother Radu to the Ottoman courts to pay a debt and buy favour. Lada turns her feelings of abandonment and loss into aggression, while gentle Radu takes the diplomatic approach, charming and listening and learning about his enemy. She becomes the solider, he becomes the spy.

When lonely young sultan Mehmed enters the picture, everything changes. The heir to the Ottoman empire becomes one of the three, but their loyalty to each other is always tempered by the fact that he will be sultan one day, and the siblings are essentially his property. And both Lada and Radu love and admire him in their own way, which might be the force that tears them all apart.

Lada is an epic anti-heroine. She doesn’t just say she is badass, she is fierce and resilient, and on the surface, perhaps a touch psychotic. But while she is cold and calculating and has no qualms about killing, it is only to serve a deeper purpose. She has her own moral code she lives by and never wavers from, even as it makes little sense to anyone else. As she matures, she begins to recognize what her place is in the world, and not accepting it, must find a way to change her world or herself. She is committed to her kingdom and will defend it at all costs.

Lada fights for everything. She is cunning and aggressive, hot-tempered and intelligent. Dismissed by her father at birth as useless until she proved beautiful enough to marry off, he soon discovered the girl possessed the strength and fierceness he had hoped he would pass on to his son. She looks down on women, having seen her own mother beaten down by her father, and considers them weak. But whereas she begins by denying her own feminity, desperately wanting her father’s approval and seeing his own thirst for power, she learns that power takes many forms, and women have their own source and ways of wielding it.

Lada shares the spotlight with Radu. Unfortunately, not the strong aggressive son that his father wished for, he is graceful and gentle, weak in their father’s eyes, and thus rejected. His sister is both his protector and his nemesis. Their relationship is filled with frustration, jealousy and misunderstanding, underscored with a deep bond. He seeks her approval even as his perceived weaknesses frustrate her, and she feels possessive of him without really understanding why.

But Radu also grows and develops and learns to wield his own influence, a different one than Lada possesses, and maybe ends up the more powerful of the two. He fades into the scenery, listening and sorting through facts and innuendo, and learns controls through subtlety.

OK. Is there a love triangle? Yes and no. There is the unrequited love that Radu has for Mehmed, so strong that Radu leaves rather than be around the one he knows cannot return his desire. And while Mehmed and Lada share a strong attraction, their deepest feelings are truly for their kingdoms and their power.  Wallachia holds Lada’s heart, while Mehmed craves the power of his throne.

Set in Eastern Europe, this is not a fantasy. It is more a historical retelling, a gender-swapping political thriller. It’s about power and the many ways in which it can be used and gained and lost, and fighting to be and get what you want.

This is not a short, quick read. At nearly 500 pages long, there is a LOT of information in it, and as a historical retelling, there is much fact that needs to be sifted from fiction. Author Kiersten White takes the time to develop her characters and follows them through the first decade and a half of their lives, exploring how their worlds intertwine and separate, how power and influence shift and wane and intensify.

If you want something light and fun, this is not for you. If you like a rich history and complex characters and plots that build slowly, this book is the start of a trilogy that will keep you captivated.

And I Darken was published June 28th, 2016 by Delacorte Press.

If I Was Your Girl

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18-year-old Amanda Hardy is the new senior at Lambertville High School in Tennessee. She just moved down there to live with her dad, after her time at her previous school ended in a suicide attempt and left her scarred and too terrified to return. High school should not be dangerous, but for Amanda, it is. Because she was born Andrew.

But Lambertville is a new chance, a new opportunity to fit in and make friends and have a life beyond Saturday evening take-out with her mom. As the new girl, she is automatically intriguing to both boys and girls alike. And not only does she make a circle of friends in the close-knit conservative town, she also meets the boy of her dreams. But how close friends can they be, when she can’t be honest with them?

This is the story of a girl who wants to fit in, have a “normal” high school experience, and not have to look over her shoulder. It is the story of family. And it is a fun boy-meets-girl-and-they-fall-in-love story. It is the story of a girl who hasn’t received a lot of love and respect in her life, and is now surrounded by friends and family who give it to her. And what is awesome is she realizes she deserves it.

Despite a suicide attempt and some quite graphic violence, the novel isn’t that dark.  It has moments of light and joy and humour, and real-life high-school experiences that took me back to those years, hanging out with friends, shopping for prom dresses with giggling girls, first kisses.

There are tons of characters that surround Amanda in the novel – her mom and dad, the girls who make up her circle, Bee, Grant, Parker, and so many more. The friends run the gamut from religious to fashionista to closeted lesbian to bi. Some are judgey, some accepting. Grant is sweet and protective. Her parents are present throughout, and although her mom struggles at first to understand, in the end just wants her child alive and happy. Dad takes longer to accept her and vacillates between feeling self-righteously unsupportive one moment, and in the next, trying to find a way to accept and protect his child.

The big reveal was well done and not in the way I expected. And as much as I always want closure, the open ending is perfect for this story.

This is a story about a trans girl written by a trans woman, with a cover that features a beautiful trans model. Read the author’s notes at the end. She writes separate messages to both the trans and the non-trans community and explains her motivations for writing the novel the way she did. Incredible.

Is the portrayal of Amanda’s life as a trans woman realistic?  Not totally, according to author Meredith Russo, but life can be difficult enough for trans teens, and perhaps reading something that is not 100% true to most experiences can give hope, and offer the belief that life can get better and there can be acceptance.

If I Was Your Girl was published May 3rd, 2016 by Flatiron Books.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls

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Ok, December is killing me. I have had tons of time to read because I’ve been sitting in hockey rinks all month waiting for tournaments and practices to finish, but have had no time to post reviews!  Hopefully, January will be a good catch-up month…

June’s former best friend Delia lives a troubled life.  June has always known that the girl was unhappy with her stepfather’s presence, that she abused various substances (alcohol being the least), she hopped from relationship to relationship, and she was a very good liar. But that night June, Delia, and Ryan (June’s boyfriend) hung out ended in trouble, and the two inseparable friends didn’t speak again. A year and a half later, she sees Delia’s name on her phone but doesn’t answer.  Two days later, she learns of the teen’s suicide.

June may not know Delia anymore, she may not have spoken to her in well over a year, but she knows one thing. Delia would never kill herself. And certainly not in the way her death happened. It had to be murder. And that one certainty drags her down into a web of deceit and danger.

This is the story of an all-consuming friendship gone wrong. It is a fire that burned itself out, as was inevitable. Two girls from equally broken homes who look for family in each other.

I found June to be a bit weak, unsure of her own mind and own decisions, easily led. She lacked common sense. Her characterization was a bit off. 15 years old, she is quiet, shy and likes to move under the radar. She does her work in school and has a “safe” boyfriend, one that is nice to everyone. But when she starts to investigate Delia’s murder, she decides to infiltrate a drug lord’s party and search for information. Look, I’m not exactly the meek and mild type, and I sure as hell wouldn’t do that, as a teen or at my age now.

Delia, on the other hand, is the type of character that I am drawn to, even as I dislike her. She has a dark side. Oh boy, she does have a dark side. She is self-absorbed, manipulative, and domineering. As we learn more about her during June’s investigation, she appears to be sociopathic. Coming from a tough home life, she latched on to June and was the dominant player in their friendship. She demanded complete attention and loyalty, even as she slipped away without June’s knowledge for other pursuits.

The other characters worked as good foils for Delia and June, but I could never really get a solid feeling about any of them.  Each one had secrets and all seemed equally inconsistent. June’s boyfriend Ryan was central to the mystery, and at first seemed beyond reproach. But then questions arose. And his version of the truth does not always add up.

The plot of the story moved around, and I found myself slightly anxious while reading. I wanted to find out what happened, and did not want it to be true. Suicide vs murder is not a new idea, and I’m not sure how original the ideas are in this reiteration. Not all questions were answered or resolved, and while the behaviour of some of the characters made sense, others’ never seemed to fully add up. Was Ryan good or bad? What about Jeremiah? Had Delia been in love with June, or just liked the control she had over her?

I can’t decide whether I loved or hated the ending. I am someone who likes to know how everything is resolved when I read the last page. I want to know what happens. Don’t leave me hanging! But no matter what, I did not see that coming.  Maybe, looking back, it should have been obvious, and it probably will be to some readers.

As with the ending, I don’t know whether I liked the novel or not. It was hard to read but impossible to put down. There were inconsistencies and questions never answered. There are a lot of mature themes and scenes and is best read by the mature YA reader.

Suicide Notes from Beautiful Girls was published July 7th, 2015 by Simon Pulse.

Not Your Sidekick (#1)

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The characters in this novel will make your heart flip. They kick some ass and save the world and bond with friends and oh! fall in love in the absolutely cutest possible way.

It is post-WWIII Nevada, and almost 17-year-old Jessica Tran is a bit of an aberration in her family. Her parents are local superheroes (not that anyone knows thanks to their impeccable secret identities), her sister is following in their footsteps, and her younger brother is a super genius and college student that spends his days building things that tend to singe body parts. She’s not athletic, not motivated in school, and not sure what she’s going to do when she turns 17 and everyone realizes she has no powers.

The nuclear fallout from the Disasters one hundred years before caused a mutation in the gene and certain people are born with super powers. Some become heroes, and some become villains. Each city gets a set of each. Since Jess is without powers, she decides to get a job and find out what she can be good at. Bonus: getting a job gets her out from under her parents’ disapproving looks and constant questions about what she’ll do with her life.

And she ends up interning for her parents’ arch nemeses. AND with her secret crush, Abby. This could be the best job EVER. But her dream job takes on a dangerous element when she discovers that the heroes and villains are not all that they seem.

Holy crap, this is a fun book to read! It is charming and endearing and the characters are believable and likable and my heart truly melted over the romances.

Jess is an Asian-American child of immigrant superheroes, her dad is Vietnamese and her mom Chinese.  She is a wonderful protagonist for the story – kind and friendly and desperate for her powers to manifest. She lives with superheroes, collects comic books to read more about them, and belongs to the Captain Orion fan club. She is bisexual, asks people for their pronouns because she does not want to misgender them, and is totally intimidated only by her first real crush. As the child of immigrant parents of two cultures, Jess faces familiar issues. Although comfortable with the food and customs, she is not fluent in either language and never quite feels like she fit in with the Vietnamese or the Chinese communities in her town, while also feeling like an outsider in her own country.

Best friends Bells and Emma are also perfect. Bells is transgender and bright and hard-working, while Emma is cisgender, flirts with every boy that walks by, and is completely oblivious to the fact that Bells is in love with her. They are dynamic and quirky and completely hold their own in the story. And first-love Abby is red-haired and gorgeous and smart and athletic, and Jess is adorably tongue-tied and nervous around her. Their romance is funny and sweet and filled with hope and promise.

All the relationships in the novel are beautifully explored and developed. Author Lee takes everything from casual friendships and acquaintances to first loves and marriages and truly respects the different ties that people have to each other. Not one character seems like a token representation in this novel – various races and gender identifications are present and feel genuine to the story.

The world building in the novel does not take a back seat to the characters or plot. Fallout due to radiation is a common enough superhero backstory, but it is the perfect set-up for this novel. The world is now made up of Confederations, and water and food are not rationed but rather respected and not wasted. Lee has created a dystopian world filled with contrasts; each city has an assigned supervillain and hero to create havoc and order, there are wastelands and well populated big cities, there is extreme wealth with access to perks unavailable to the common population.

At the heart of it is the difference in perception and reality; who or what makes someone a hero or a villain? How do you resist pressure to be something you aren’t, and stay true to your own convictions? Especially when you learn that everything you thought was true is the opposite.

This is a great novel for everyone to read. No age limits, no restrictions. It is fun with fabulous messages, and I am just giddy waiting for the next book in the series!

Not Your Sidekick was published September 8th, 2016 by Duet Books.

Saving Hamlet

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Something fun to help me recover from a month of reading horror – theatre nerds, Shakespeare, time traveling, a bisexual BFF, and a plethora of cute boys to crush on, gay and straight. What more could a girl ask for?

15-year-old Emma is hoping to forget her freshman year at BHS. She started last year as a soccer star with long red hair and a bright future. But then the Hallowe’en party happened and she quit the soccer team and lost her friends. Life looked pretty bleak. Then Lulu sat at her lunch table one day and asked her to join the drama club, and suddenly life looked up again. She had a new best friend and a purpose.

So sophomore year looks good. Emma has changed her look  and she has changed her life. She has a sleek short haircut and a drama appropriate all-black wardrobe, is the assistant stage manager for the school production of Hamlet, the hottest boy in school is directing the play, what could go wrong? Well, how about a fight with her best friend, a sudden promotion to stage manager (a position she has just begun to learn), bad casting for the play, and a hole in the centre of the stage that she trips over and falls through.

And lands in Hell. Otherwise known as the basement below the stage at Shakespeare’s Globe Theatre. Yes, that one. The one in London, in 1601. And the players are preparing to stage Hamlet for the first time. And Emma is mistaken for a boy (how flattering) and as the assistant to the stage manager Mr. Wick, who is known as the book keeper.

Emma is NOT an actor in a story that is set in the theatre. I like that. She is self-conscious and endearing, funny and conflicted, and seems on the edge of losing control at all times. Thrust into the spotlight when the stage manager quits, she has to juggle fragile egos and a disastrous production in the making. Not to mention her no-longer-best friend’s life is imploding, and there is nothing Emma can do to help.

Emma (known as Master Allen in the Globe) encounters Shakespeare himself in her travels back to his theatre, and soaks up the atmosphere of the original production and studies his methods and motivations. She brings that knowledge and new-found confidence in her ideas back to her present day production, and back to her relationships.

Every kid in the novel is misunderstood and melodramatic and, therefore, a totally authentic teen. Small things become huge, and huge things actually become easier to handle. Who would have thought that traveling back in time 400 years would actually be preferable to working on a high school drama club production? (I may have just answered my own question there.)

Stanley and Lulu, Emma’s two best friends, are gay and bi and possibly two of the best-written characters I have read in ages, if not ever. They are beautifully developed with individual personalities and quirks and jealousies, they are complex and not “token”, which I have found so many of the diverse characters in other novels to be lately. And, to top it all off, they are sarcastic and funny, which pretty much made them my favourites.

But all the present-day characters in the novel are strong. I d0n’t necessarily like each one, but my reasons for not liking them are because of their personalities, not because they are poorly written. They aren’t. They are all so real and familiar to me, I am pretty sure I went to school with at least half of them. (Or, given my age, their parents.) And the characters from Shakespeare’s troupe of players and stagehands are exactly how I would picture each and every one, from Will himself to Burbage and Wick. Their humour and egos are spectacular.

The plot is FABULOUS. Author Molly Booth weaves Shakespearean facts and literature throughout the novel, illustrating all the magic that is present in his writing. This isn’t a novel that is filled with action, but rather with subtext and stories and growing up and learning all of life’s fun and not-so-fun lessons. The drama playing out in Emma’s life is mirrored in the theatre, as is the drama in each of her co-workers’ and friends’ lives. Who can be trusted, who is real, what is their motivation for their actions? It is as hilarious as it is poignant and adventurous.

Booth’s world-building showed meticulous research and thorough understanding of the time. Her attention to detail in both the Globe’s and the present day’s productions is impeccable, making me feel like I was breathing in the sawdust of the old theatre and smelling the rank odors of the costumes and players. 17th century London was full of interesting characters and Em’s adventures in that century had me on the edge of my seat.

This is a great novel for anyone with a yen for adventure and romance. And while knowledge of Shakespeare isn’t a requirement to understand the story, it certainly adds to the enjoyment. LOVE this one.

Saving Hamlet was published November 1st, 2016 by Disney-Hyperion.

Willful Machines

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What makes us human? Is it free will? The ability to make choices? What separates us from machines, and where do we draw the line between human and machine? And why do we keep advancing science, if we are so afraid of the results?

Charlotte is a terrorist. She uses the threat of violence and destruction to hold the President of the United States in check. And she follows through. The Statue of Liberty, the symbol of American freedom, is no more.

The trouble is, Charlotte is difficult to track down. You see, she is a consciousness, an artificial intelligence, created in a lab to serve mankind. But she rebelled against her programming and uploaded herself onto the internet before she could be destroyed. Now she roams the world, an electronic ghost, and plans on controlling it.

Lee Fisher is Charlotte’s target. The reason? He is the son of the American president and is a great bargaining chip. Oh, and he’s gay. Deep in the closet gay. And his dad doesn’t really believe in “gay,” or that A.I.s should have any rights. His dad was elected on a conservative, family values, homeland security type platform. A gay son does NOT fit in with his profile. So Lee keeps his sexuality a secret.

Until Nico comes to Lee’s boarding school.

This really is a different story.

Lee is an interesting main character. Being gay with an ultra-conservative father would be difficult enough. He also has an ultra-conservative ex-POW grandfather who happens to be the Headmaster of his school and wants Lee to toughen up. Lee is a robotics fanatic; he builds artificial life-forms, gives them specific skills, and makes them lifelike. This also doesn’t sit well with his father, who ordered government-sponsored A.I.s destroyed after Charlotte’s breakdown. Lee has to hide so much of his life from his dad.

He is both fragile and strong; leading a double life brings on depression and suicidal thoughts, but he has the strength when needed to stand up for himself and Nico and Bex and fight for their lives.

His best/only friend Bex is a bit stereotypical as the loud-but-supportive-politically-minded-budding-journalist, but she stands out with her own, very well-developed character.

Nico is a Chilean exchange student who loves Shakespeare and attracts Lee right from the beginning. He is brave and self-assured, and he easily fits into life at the strict boring school.

The boys’ relationship is a *bit* too love-at-first-sight for me. They are adorable, but it would have been nice to see the relationship develop. They seemed to barely know each other before declaring undying passion and everlasting love. Individually, they are interesting. Together, they are melodramatic and not too convincing as a couple, unfortunately.

But Charlotte! Charlotte is an atypical villain; at first she is evil, then she seems manipulative, then sympathetic. Her programming led her to question her existence and value, and she wanted to be more than the sum of her parts. Very human of her. And for that, the government, the very people who created her, tried to destroy her and use her actions to further their political careers. And her very human response is to strike back and try to be recognized as an individual, along with her fellow A.I.s.

Author Tim Floreen has brought a new twist to the usual boarding school setting. An old, elite school with decades-old traditions and expectations, mingled with political intrigue and imminent threats to world security. The year the story takes place is not stated, but the technology used is just advanced enough to make the reader think near-future. It doesn’t stand out as ridiculous, but almost the next-generation to what we are already aware of existing.

There are a LOT of plot twists in the story, and I think, for the most part, they are surprising and work really well. I obviously do not want to spoil the story by giving them all away, but can say that while a few are obvious, others are a complete surprise and I didn’t see them coming.

I found the ending to be a bit… lacking. I was waiting for more, and it felt unfinished, and a bit forced, which I never enjoy. While I can understand the explanation of Lee’s grandfather, it did seem to come out of left-field, and not really flow with the rest of the story. And Floreen not only doesn’t explain how Lee comes to his conclusions, he also does not address so many of the questions raised throughout the novel. If there is a sequel, then there is much to be addressed. If there isn’t, then it is a bit of a non-ending.

This is a good story. It could be great, but leaves a bit too much on the table. It is, however, intriguing, and raises valuable questions about what makes us human, and how far we would be willing to go to protect ourselves. Appropriate for the entire YA range.

Willful Machines was published October 20th, 2015 by Simon Pulse.