Queer Reading List Search

I am in the process of updating my queer reading list. The old list is just that – a list. I list science fiction and fantasy books that contain significant queer representation and which I have enjoyed reading.

The new version, I’m hoping will be more useful for people looking for SF&F books that contain queer representation. It’s a bit more visual, with a list of books and their cover images on the left.

Reading list screenshot

Through the use of filters, people can search the list for specific types of representation – e.g. a book with an intersex protagonist, or an asexual major character. The main page shows broad categories for representation.

Reading list screenshot 2

But there are arrows underneath the list that let you scroll through different pages. The other pages focus in on a specific group of representation and let you narrow down the search in more detail.

Reading list screenshot 3

You can find the new version here: http://www.plot-twister.co.uk/queer-reading-list-search/.

It is currently a work in progress, so I would be interested in hearing feedback or ideas for improvement.

I’m also interested in finding contributors to the list. The old list was put together solely by myself, which means new books could get added only at the rate at which I could read them. If I can find more people interested in adding books to the list, then this can becoming something much longer and more useful. If you are interested in adding books to the list, please let me know.

Review: How to Save the World by Tam MacNeil

How to Save the World coverHow to Save the World by Tam MacNeil (UK link, US link), not to be confused with one of the many other books with the same or similar name, is a book that walks the line between fantasy and science fiction. Monsters are rising from the sea and emerging from the forests, death gods who call to the people nearby. Anyone who hears their song is drawn to them and filled with the urge to commit suicide. A man named Cameron runs the company who produces mech – huge metal machines that can fight against these monsters. The mechs are designed to be driven by a human being, but the experience is horrifying. In this world, Alex and Sean are assassins working for Cameron, killing anyone he sends them after. They decide to escape their life by killing Cameron but when the attempt fails, Sean manages to get out and start a new life but Alex is caught and forced inside one of the mechs.

When I first started this book I had my doubts about it. For the first couple of chapters, I wasn’t sure I’d be able to connect with Alex or Sean, who we see committing murders without seeming to care about it. How wrong I was. It didn’t take long for the book to start exploring their history, the way they protect each other, and their desire to have a better life than the one they’re forced to endure. Once the book got going it was very easy to have sympathy for both of them and some parts of the book were absolutely heart-wrenching. I was in tears in places.

The story deals with some very dark themes and difficult issues. There are explorations of rape, child abuse, grooming, suicide, grief, and some scenes that can only be described as torture. These issues are dealt with in a very respectful way and it really tugs on the heart-strings, but it could be a very difficult read for some people because of how real the emotion feels.

The book is definitely driven by the emotion. There is some mystery and a fair amount of action, with the characters working to, as the title says, save the world from the monsters, but really the core of the book is the emotional journey between Sean and Alex.

The relationship between the two main characters is beautifully written. We get to see their history and the background behind their interactions as well as the moments on the page. It works in a very layered way. You can genuinely feel how much they love each other. The interactions with the other characters is great too, and there were some brilliant moments where we get to see the two main characters through the eyes of characters like Mad and Rak. We spend so much of the time in this book inside their heads that it’s interesting to see what they look like from the outside.

The only criticism I have of this book is that it needed a better editor. There were a lot of typos and there were several points where a new chapter or section started with a pronoun and it took me several paragraphs to work out who was the viewpoint character for this bit. A chapter would start with “he” and I would spend a page trying to work out if this was Alex or Sean, only to find out this bit was from Rak’s point of view. I through me out of the story. It’s a shame because otherwise this was a brilliant book.

Very emotional and highly recommended, but do be aware of the fact it tackles issues of rape and abuse. Five stars.

Review: The Dark Wife by Sarah Diemer

The Dark Wife - coverThe Dark Wife (UK link, US link) is a retelling of the ancient Greek myth of Persephone. According to most traditional tellings of the story, Hades, the lord of the Underworld, carries off Persephone, daughter of the goddess of the harvest, to force her to be his wife. The gods attempt to rescue her, but because she’s eaten half a pomegranate while in the underworld, she has to live there for half the year, causing her mother to mourn her and thus causing winter.

This retelling has many of those same elements, but delivered with a new perspective and some significant changes. One important change is the fact that the ‘lord’ of the underworld is in fact a lady. Hades is female, and the title ‘lord’ is used by Zeus to mock her. The story also focuses on the idea from myth of Zeus being a rapist who takes what he wants. When Persephone’s lover is raped by Zeus and transformed into a plant, Persephone hates him, and ends up running away to the underworld to escape him, where she falls in love with Hades. Even the pomegranate plays a different role.

The story plays with many of the threads of ancient myths, such as the idea of the Elysium fields as a final resting place for heroes, and the three-headed dog that guards the entrance to the underworld, but with a new and refreshing take on these old ideas. I think part of the appeal of the story is the familiarity of these pieces and seeing them fit together in a new way, so I imagine that the story wouldn’t have the same appeal to people who are less familiar with the ancient Greek myths.

As it is, if you enjoy myths and want a story about immortal lesbians, then The Dark Wife is a very enjoyable story. It’s quite short and much of the focus is on the emotional journey rather than any action or adventure, but for fans of romance, I can see it being very much appreciated.

The characters are rounded and developed as people. The story is told from Persephone’s perspective, so we understand her motives and drives throughout the story, but there are a number of other characters who play important parts, including many of the gods, such as Hermes and Athena. The way the gods are portrayed compared to humans is interesting and feels genuine. The author explores how immortality would effect things like love and romance, especially when it’s between a mortal and an immortal. Despite all their powers, the characters in this story feel very human.

Four stars. One for fans of mythology.

Eastercon highlights

Last weekend I was at Eastercon and I wanted to post a few highlights.

Eastercon eggs 2 Eastercon eggs 1First off, I definitely have to mention the Easter egg display the hotel put on in the reception. Absolutely spectacular. They were beautiful. I have no idea how they did the roses on some of the eggs. Every time you walked past, you’d get this waft of chocolate smell so I hope someone was allowed to eat them afterwards.

This year I was on two panels. One was on LGBT to QUILTBAG, talking about queer representation in sci-fi/fantasy and the importance of representing some of the less known aspects of the queer identity (e.g. having characters who are genderqueer, intersex, asexual, and so on). That yielded some really interesting discussions and was fun for us as a panel, and several people came up to me afterwards saying that they found it really interesting as well, which is great.

The second panel was on the Women of Star Wars, in honour of Carrie Fisher. This was fun as well, but the conversation didn’t seem to flow as much as in the first panel. It jumped around a bit, but we still had some great conversations and the people I was on the panel with were all really nice.

I attended quite a lot of sessions, including the explosive opening ceremony. My photos didn’t come out particularly well of this, but we had gerkin light bulbs, jelly baby fireworks, and exploding fire. There was a definite theme around getting food to blow up. It was put on by the Royal Institution who do these sorts of talks and science displays for kids. So if you want to get a science display set up for a school near you, check them out because it was both entertaining and informative.rope braidbraided hair

I attended a hair braiding workshop and decided that the rope braid was significantly nicer to do than a French braid. I really couldn’t get the hang of a French or Dutch braid at all. I felt like I needed three extra hands to make it work. I did get my hair braided as an example of putting it all together so I walked out of there with braids and rosettes in my hair, which was awesome.

Another panel which was awesome enough to deserve a blog post all to itself was the wheelchair martial arts demonstration by comic book artist and fight choreographer Al Davison. I have some videos of that session that I will be posting soon, so watch this space.

Guardbridge booksAs with other conventions, there was a dealers’ room, in which I spent more money than I should on books. A couple of people worth mentioning were the TTA Press, who ran the indie author table. They took some of my books and did the job of selling them over the weekend, which was really great of them. There were a few other authors who were selling their books there and I bought a few of them, so you might be seeing them reviewed on here soon. There was also a table from Guardbridge Books, who I recently signed a publishing contract with. They will soon be publishing an urban fantasy novel of mine, so keep an eye out for that.

I wore my Queen Madalena cosplay again, which earned me thirteen “nice cosplay” tokens. I don’t know if this is a high number or low, but that was all I could cope with before I had to change back into jeans. Next year, I’m going for a more practical cosplay.

All in all, it was a lot of fun. I definitely had fun participating in the panels rather than just watching them, though watching them was fun too. I went to sessions ranging from presentations on the psychology of living in space to flash fiction writing competitions. Definitely a good convention. Tiring, but good.

Review: The Boy in Red by E M Holloway

The Boy in Red coverThe Boy in Red (UK link, US link) is the fourth book in E M Holloway’s The Sum of Its Parts series. It’s undoubtedly my favourite in the series, but it will probably only make sense if you’ve read the other three books first. There are a lot of references to the events of the previous book and characters show up without any real introduction (even though an introduction might have been a helpful reminder in the case of characters who only played minor roles in the earlier books).

In this book, Puck and his werewolf pack face a sorcerer who has heard of Puck’s reputation as the formidable “Boy in Red” (a reputation he earned based on his actions in the previous books) and decides to test his skills against him. This sorcerer casts spells that torment the pack as a sort of game to see what Puck’s reaction will be. Puck just wants to protect his pack, but the sorcerer is putting other people in danger and someone has to protect them too, even when they’re people Puck can’t stand.

On top of it all, Puck has to cope with going to school and dealing with an asshole teacher who seems determined to make Puck’s life hell. With all the magical attacks, this mundane issue could be the final straw.

I mentioned that this book is my favourite so far and that’s largely because the characters are established and have settled into their relative roles. This book jumps straight in with the plot and there is a lot of plot. The first book of this series felt as much like a murder mystery novel as a supernatural adventure and this book comes back to that. Puck has a puzzle to solve to figure out the sorcerer’s identity, to track him down and to find a way to stop him, and lot of this feels like a crime novel and the questions keep you turning the pages to find out the answers.

There’s also a lot going on in this story, with various plot threads that are all connected but that also feel strong individually, such as the conflict with Nealy. Here we have a very human conflict surfacing in the form of lawsuits and lurking, which is a stark contrast to the rest of the action, and which brings out a different set of reactions in Puck.

These events also bring out a response in Puck’s PTSD. This book, like the others in the series, deserves points for the careful handling of this difficult issue. Puck suffers from PTSD following the events of the first book and it’s clear the author put a lot of time and effort into research because Puck’s symptoms feel very real. This book explores the impact of his PTSD in a deeper way than some of the others and includes Puck starting therapy to deal with it.

There are a lot of characters in this book, with Puck front and centre as the protagonist, but with the rest of Puck’s pack, Puck’s father, a local magic-expert, others at school and their families, some teachers, the werewolf-hunters in the area, contacts Puck has from the previous book, law enforcement officers, and so on, until there are a lot of people involved. There’s a reason why I thought a bit more introduction to some of the minor characters might have been helpful because there are a lot of people involved. It can get quite complicated, but the interplay of all these different people makes the story feel very real.

Definitely my favourite so far in the series, but as I said, if you’re new to these books you should probably start off at the beginning to save yourself a lot of confusion.

Queer Reading List

I have just added a new page to this website, called Queer Reading List. This is an on-going list of sci-fi and fantasy books that I’ve read and enjoyed that feature queer characters in a significant way. I’m using the umbrella term ‘queer’ because so far these books include characters who are agender, intersex, bisexual, gay, asexual, demi-sexual and more. I hope to include more aspects of the LGBT+ identities as time goes on.

I’m only including books on this list if I’ve read and enjoyed them, but I’m always open to recommendations. If you’ve read (or written) a book that you think deserves a place on this list, leave a comment or contact me with that book recommendation. I can’t promise how quickly I’ll get to it, because my to be read pile is constantly growing, but if I enjoy it, I will add it to the list.

Check back periodically because I do intend for this list to grow over time.

Review: Every Day by David Levithan

Every Day coverEvery Day by David Levithan (US link, UK link) is the story of A, who lives each day in a different life. Each morning they wake up with a new body, a new name, and a whole new life. They must bluff their way through the day and then, the next morning, start all over again. They have no control over whose body the inhabit and no way to stop the transfer happening. Normally, they try to leave the people they inhabit exactly the same after the experience, but sometimes they make exceptions to the rule, such as when they spent the day in the body of a girl contemplating suicide.

When A meets Rhiannon, one day is enough to fall in love. A doesn’t want to leave her behind when they move into another body and so they start taking stupid risks for the chance to see her again. And now one of their hosts knows he was possessed and is desperate to find out what happened.

This was an enjoyable book and it was fun to see the different lives A briefly experiences. It gives a real variety of family situations, from an undocumented underage worker to the rich and bitchy queen of a high school. The book is really good for the diversity of people included, with A jumping between bodies of different races, different genders, and different sexualities. I loved that it showed the depressed sufferer as having serious problems with her brain chemistry that impacted A as well, rather than being dismissed as a “bad mood”. A themselves describes themselves as not really having a gender. Because they jump around each day, they don’t really feel either male or female but a bit of both.

Plot wise, most of the book is about A trying to stay with Rhiannon, but there is the threat of Nathan poking around, trying to uncover the truth. It’s more of a romance than an adventure.

I enjoyed this book. There were a couple of things that irritated me, including an event that happens near the end, so I won’t spoil it for anyone, but on the whole it was entertaining and enjoyable and kept me guessing. Four stars.

September’s diverse book giveaway

Every Heart a Doorway coverEvery month in 2016 I’m giving away a different science fiction or fantasy book that highlights some form of diversity (preferably more than one). September’s book is the charming Every Heart a Doorway which I have reviewed in a previous blog post.

I chose this book for its LGBTQ representation. The protagonist is asexual, and actually uses this word to describe herself which is astonishingly rare. Another major character in the book is trans. There is an incident of transphobic language from one of the other characters but this is clearly addressed by the narrative and the other characters as being unacceptable behaviour.

If you want a chance to win this book, head over to Tumblr and reblog the giveaway post before the end of September.

Review: All the King’s Men

All the King’s Men by Alex Powell is a story set almost entirely in the artificial world of the Cerebrum. The protagonist Fox is part of a group of hackers who uncover corrupt government practices and expose them to the world. The group is led by a man known as King. When King is captured, he erases his memories rather than risk them being stolen by the government. Fortunately, in the digital world, backups are possible. Fox and the others must hunt for the backups of King’s memories but that won’t do them much good until they can rescue King’s physical body. Meanwhile, the government agent known only as Seven is on Fox’s trail, but he has some questions about his role.

On the whole, I enjoyed this story. There are a number of threads of mystery running through the plot: where are King’s memories, how did the government capture him, how will they get King’s body back? These keep the story going and kept me turning the page to find out what happens next.

The world building was interesting. Most of the action takes place in a virtual reality that builds on concepts familiar to internet users, with the characters able to take links from domain to domain. There are concepts of private domains and public spaces, with the ability to create virtual representations of places and even memories. This provides a rich backdrop to the story.

The one thing that I wasn’t sure about was the romantic element, which seemed to build extremely quickly. I don’t want to give spoilers, but there is a romance that seems to build from strangers, to being interested in each other, to being a couple, in a very short space of time. Given everything else that’s going on in the story, with hunters and betrayal, it seemed that they started to trust each other too soon.

Despite that, I did like the characters. They each had different personalities. Seven in particular has a great deal of character development over the course of the story.

If you enjoy cyberpunk action, this is an enjoyable book. Four stars.