Three quick reviews

When asked what I want for Christmas or birthdays, I always give my parents a list of books so that they can pick a few items for that list to give me as presents. This means I don’t know precisely what I’m getting, but we can all be sure it will be books I’m interested in reading.

My Christmas book haul this year consisted of three books that had been recommended by others for the queer reading list: In Other Lands by Sarah Rees Brennan, Peter Darling by Austin Chant, and Dreadnought by April Daniels. Rather than do a full review of each book, I figured I would do some quick summary reviews here.

In Other Lands (UK link, US link) – I thoroughly enjoyed this book. Those following my Tumblr may have noticed a number of posts commenting on this book as I was reading it. I’m still a little disappointed it didn’t end in a poly relationship between Elliot, Luke and Serene, but never mind, despite that disappointment it was a really good book. Elliot is taken through into a magical land and decides that he doesn’t want anything to do with swords and bows and horrible things like battles. He’d much rather be making peace and meeting mermaids. The problem is that Elliot, after a lifetime of being bullied and abandoned, has no experience of making friends and the abrasive nature he’s cultivated as a defence mechanism is going to drive away the people is really cares about. Elliot’s snark and sarcasm is fun to read, but because as the reader we can see his insecurities, it makes him endearing as a character even as it causes conflict with the people around him.

Peter Darling (UK link, US link) – This was a really interesting take on an old classic. It’s a sequel/retelling of Peter Pan, where Peter and Wendy were the same person. Peter returns to Neverland to avoid being sent to an asylum by parents who don’t understand his insistence that he’s really a boy. Returning as an adult though, he finds that the fun games of his childhood aren’t so fun anymore but Hook is still as interesting as ever. Hook, on the other hand, hasn’t really felt alive since Peter left and his return is awakening memories he’d thought were lost. It’s been a long time since I read Peter Pan, so I’m not sure how many of the ideas about Neverland were taken from the original and how many were created by Chant, but I loved the picture Chant painted of a world shaped by the imaginations of the humans who stumbled into it.

Dreadnought (UK link, US link) – A story that is equal parts coming out story and superhero adventure. Danny’s biggest concern in life is keeping her dad from figuring out she’s trans, but then the world’s most powerful superhero dies right in front of her, giving her his powers and in the same moment transforming her so she has the body she’s always wanted. Now there’s no way to hide that she’s really a girl, and she has to deal with her dad’s fury as well as coming to grips with her new powers. There’s a lot of real emotion in this story in the relationship between Danny and her dad and the book paints a painfully realistic picture of an abusive father, who doesn’t see himself as abusive because he never hits. One of the other things I like is the way Danny experiences sexist microaggresions for the first time (a boy feeling entitled to date her, a stranger on the bus telling her to smile, etc.) in a way she didn’t before her body changed. It’s an interesting way of showing how people are treated differently based on how the world perceives them. But before the dark parts of the book can drag you down too much, it provides fun in the superhero antics and Danny’s relationship with the vigilante Calamity. It’s a perfect balance of serious and light-hearted.

Cover Art Reveal: The Adventures of Technicality Man

The Adventures of Technicality Man cover

Everyone knows how the stories are supposed to go. The good guys win in the end, the hero ends up with the designated love interest, and the plucky band of misfits pulls together to save the world.

But what happens when a villain targets the nature of stories themselves? All the tropes that the heroes have come to rely on are under threat.

Technicality Man and his trusty companion Continuity Leopard must join forces with a group of minor heroes to save the day. They won’t let any barrier stop them. Not even the fourth wall.


My new superhero parody, The Adventures of Technicality Man, is now available for pre-order from Amazon (UK link, US link). This is the story of a ragtag bunch of heroes and a lot of ridiculous puns.

So join Technicality Man, Continuity Leopard as they fight to make sure that the good guys will always win.

Review: Not Your Sidekick by C B Lee

Not Your Sidekick coverNot Your Sidekick is the story of Jess, a girl born to superhero parents, whose older sister is set to become a superhero too and whose younger brother is intellectually brilliant. She, on the other hand, has no powers and feels that she’s not enough for her family’s legacy. When she gets offered an internship and discovers she’ll be working for her parents’ nemeses, she decides to go for it. However, the job is not what she expected, the villains aren’t exactly evil, and there’s a lot more going on with the battle between heroes and villains than she’d have ever guessed.

The story plays with superhero tropes around powers and secret identities, while simultaneously telling the coming of age story of a teenager trying to figure out who she is in relation to her family. As a character, Jess is relatable. She goes through a lot of very normal things, dealing with school and friends and a crush on her fellow intern. Even in a world of superpowers, Jess is a very human character. She’s also the child of immigrants, and this plays nicely into the story of her figuring out who she is. She doesn’t want to ignore the heritage of where her parents come from, but she also needs to fit in the society she lives in now.

There are other interesting characters as well. While Jess is the main character, she has interactions with friends, family and strangers. The interplay between the different characters gives the impression of a rich, full world.

The only thing that I feel let this book down was that it didn’t really surprise me. In a story of superheroes, a lot of the characters who are introduced also have secret identities and these were sign-posted so much that they might as well have been shining in six-foot neon letters. The identities of various heroes were obvious. There was also a key relationship between a major character and the villains that could be seen coming from miles off. Key plot points were predictable. There was nothing subtle about the hints. There was only one detail of a plot twist in the whole book that came close to surprising me, but I won’t spoil that surprise now.

Not Your Sidekick does well from a diversity standpoint. Jess is an Asian bisexual, one of her friends is trans, and there is good representation from both a racial and LGBT+ perspective among the other characters. This representation feels genuine and it adds layers to Jess’s character and the overall theme of coming to terms with who you are.

I did enjoy the book. I liked the characters and the story, and there were some entertaining interactions between Jess and some of the other characters, I just wish it could have surprised me a bit more. If you enjoy superhero stories and what a quick read, you’ll probably have fun with this one. It’s probably a good book for younger readers, who might be less familiar with some of the tropes and who might therefore get a bit more surprised than I was. Three and a half stars.

July’s Diverse Book Giveaway

The Defectives coverOver on Tumblr, I’m continuing my series of giveaways of books that showcase diversity. For July, I’m giving away The Defectives which I’ve reviewed in a previous post. This book has a disabled protagonist, multiple disabled and neurodivergent characters, as well as racially diverse characters.

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

I’m still looking for suggestions of other books to include in this campaign, so if you’ve read a great SF&F book that features diverse characters, let me know in the comments and I’ll take a look.

Review: The Defectives

The Defectives by Burgandi RakoskaThe Defectives cover is a story that manages to be both fun and deeply emotional. It made me laugh out loud in a few places and cry in others, sometimes only pages apart.

Juniper is a teenager with telekinetic abilities, all set to go to a prestigious school for superheroes – until she is left paralysed from the waist down in a car accident. She has to figure out who she is now that her expected future has shattered. Juniper is sent to a school for kids with disabilities as well as superabilities. At first, she feels that the school is like a prison, but she finds friends who can help her learn how to move forward.

The plot of the book follows a number of standard tropes, including the gruff mentor who turns out to have a heart of gold, and the protagonist who learns she’s no less of a person now that she’s disabled. Despite the occasional cliché, The Defectives remains an interesting read, with touches of humour in places, and some very genuine emotions in others.

The author is herself in a wheelchair which helps make Juniper’s experiences have serious impact. I really felt like I understood what Juniper was going through as the narrative explored her emotional journey. There are ups and down, moments of depression and times of joy, creating quite a journey that’s rooted in something very sincere. I can imagine readers who find themselves in a similar situation getting a great deal of comfort from this character’s experiences.

There are some background concepts that I wish were explored more. The story is set in a world where superheroes are common, and there are mentions of a war that took place without much explanation of its history or impact. At one point, it’s revealed that all people with superabilities have to take a test to determine if they will be heroes or villains. This seemed a very strange concept which is never really explained and I can’t imagine how the test could be administered accurately – people give the answers they know are expected to get sorted into the right house on Pottermore, so of course people would choose the “nice” answers to get tested as a hero. This whole idea jarred me out of the story because it seemed very strange and my questions about it are never addressed. I thought that the whole book would have made more sense if this aspect were just edited out. None of the other points jumped out as much as the morality test but there were elements of world-building I thought could have done with deeper explanations.

Where it does extremely well however is in how it addresses subjects of disabilities and accessibility in ways that would be relevant to the real-world. There are background details mentioned here and there, such as a bell tower chiming quarter hour marks to help blind students tell the time, that show how the school is built with accessibility in mind. There are moments when the disabled students show annoyance at how reporters ask a non-disabled person to speak for them instead of asking the students themselves, or when a character compares a broken leg to a long-term disability. All these touches add to the realism of an otherwise fantastic world.

On the whole, I did enjoy this story a lot. It’s a quick read that gets right to the emotions of the situation. Despite the gaps in the world-building and the occasional predictability, it’s still a book I would recommend.

Four stars.