top of page
  • RoAnna sylver

June Review Round-Up!

I have ELEVEN reviews for you this time, all of queer SFF (my brand; mostly indie too), and I loved all of them. This month we have Darkling by Brooklyn Ray, The Gift Of your Love by Kay Bashe, The Corpseriders by S. R. Jones,  Shattered Glass by Lina Langley,  Team Phison by Chace Verity, The Artist And The Devil by Shira Glassman, Curved Horizon by Taylor Brooke, Gale by Lyssa Chiavari, Love Bites by Magen Cubed, No More Heroes by Michelle Kan, and Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan! Enjoy!

Darkling by Brooklyn Ray My rating: 4 of 5 stars “Fire burned in his bone marrow and stampeded through his veins. But darkness festered everywhere else.” * * *

A short-ish but really well-imagined and atmospheric novelette (? It seemed shorter than a novella) that you can probably get through in a couple sittings. I say “well-imagined” because we get a very clear and vital sense of place and the people in it, and the tone is really effectively ominous, and intriguing.

I absolutely loved the emphasis on consent, which made already steamy scenes hotter and much more secure-feeling. I also enjoyed the magic worldbuilding and especially the use of tarot and all its symbolism, and its take on necromancy and the idea that “dark” and “light” really isn’t cut and dry good and evil.

I would have liked to know some more specifics about how the various magic systems work, and things like the families, and how an alchemist is different from a regular witch, stuff like that – which to me isn’t really a bad thing, since it just means I want more of the universe! I know there are more books coming, and hopefully they’ll be a little more fleshed out. I’ll definitely want to read them.

The Corpseriders by S.R. Jones My rating: 4 of 5 stars “A long time ago, before the sky had been ruined, the iylmin people had been able to see the stars.” * * *

A short but memorable introduction to a larger story I’d be really interested to read. Another review said the setting descriptions are so intense the woods become a character unto itself, and I definitely agree with that. The worldbuilding is super intriguing and raises a lot of interesting questions without leaving the reader confused, and I like what we get to see of the heroine, her resourcefulness and general badassery. The ending is kind of brutal, but that’s what we’re here for in horror. I know there’s another short story aside from the main book, and I’ll probably check that out as well.

Quick, fun, and emotional superhero fare lovers of f/f SFF should eat up. I had the enjoyable opportunity of beta-reading this, and really enjoyed both that and reading the finished product. Kay Bashe creates an intriguing and offbeat world that I can see growing in the future, and will be sure to enjoy if it does.

Shattered Glass by Lina Langley My rating: 4 of 5 stars “What had he said? The system was incidental. The blood felt incidental, too.” * * *

I went into this expecting a romance with a heavy atmosphere of dystopian suspense, and that’s definitely what I got. (Loved it.) And also a thoughtful examination of the stranglehold a ruling class can have on those not privileged enough to live in their gilded Zones – and the (sometimes unthinkable) lengths to which disenfranchised people will go to improve or save their lives. How people we think we know can surprise us, in good or horrible ways.

Or how far they’ll go to save the lives of those they love. I adored the climactic scene in this, which I think deserves to be enjoyed unspoiled, but suffice it to say that love conquers all, and that’s also where the full strangeness of this world hit in force. It’s mostly an alternate-universe contemporary, but the infusions of magic are super interesting – that juxtaposed with the seemingly ordinary surroundings and majority of the story just made it feel more jarring and incongruous. In anything else, I’m not sure they would have fit together, but in this particular story (something made to show contrasts and jagged edges) the effect is… unsettling, and, I think, intentional. It works.

You can probably get through this in one sitting, and will probably come out the other side feeling like a little rebellion. And like you might actually have a shot.

Team Phison by Chace Verity My rating: 5 of 5 stars “My reply to Tyson is brief, but it takes me eight tries to get the wording right. Nice. Okay, it’s awkward. But Tyson texts back a LOL, and it irons out the wrinkles in my ancient heart.” * * *

Oh my gosh. Oh gosh.

Well, okay, let’s try words. First of all, it’s absolutely my favorite thing I’ve ever read from this author, and… I have about zero spare spoons nowadays, right? Which leads to me basically never re-reading anything. I don’t have the energy, I’m lucky if I have energy to read something once.

I KNOW I’m going to re-read this. It’s just so freaking sweet and enjoyable, and the lines that don’t make me Actual LOL (I DID. I ACTUAL LOL’D READING THIS) were wonderfully painful heart-punches (followed by more Actual LOL). I was just so completely charmed by Phil’s Crusty, Gold-Hearted Older Guy narration, and Tyson is so adorable and sweet and I just. Love both of them. So much.

I love older gay guys getting stories and arcs and character development. And I love not super conventionally romance-novel hot love interests (who are Adored and admired – I distinctly remember the line “I admired his paunchy belly and hairy thighs” and this is wonderful. All of this is wonderful.

And they meet PLAYING A VIDEOGAME. Not teenagers. Games aren’t just for kids, yeah. And it’s the sweetest online relationship that moves IRL – and I loved Phil’s family and INCREDIBLY SUPPORTIVE, DIVERSE QUEER AND TRANS FRIEND GROUP. *ONE OF THEM HAS EHLERS-DANLOS SYNDROME. SAME DISORDER!!! SAME HAT!!*

…Anyway I just really really freaking loved this book so much and cannot stop Gushing so just. Read it okay, read it and Scream with me. A book has not *DELIGHTED* me so much in… has it been years? Maybe years.


The Artist and the Devil by Shira Glassman My rating: 5 of 5 stars “What a spell Meyer wove with that voice—deep, rich, and relaxed. What was it they called Satan in Sunday school? The Prince of Lies? Noah imagined any lie coming out of that mouth sounding sweet, making love to his ears.” * * *

Everything I’ve read by Shira Glassman has been incredibly healing, and this is no exception, but in a different way than usual. I did have an idea of where it was going – recognized the symbol on the cover, and hoped, and was very happy! – so I won’t spoil here. If you’re not familiar, I think you’ll really enjoy the twist and comedy-of-errors that lead to a super sweet resolution.

And if you are bisexual and/or the other marginalization written about here (*SEE BOTTOM NOTE IF YOU WANT SPECIFICS, bc Representation Isn’t Spoilers, but in this case… IT KIND OF IS? and I don’t mind here at all? I found the Twist delightful, but it’s also important to talk about specific rep!)… well, I cried. In a very good way. We’re not talked about in good terms very often, so much that I”m really desensitized to it by now, so it’s always kindness that gets past my guard, because, case in point, i’m crying again right now.

…Okay, I am done crying, and the last thing I would like to say about this book is that (also like much of Shira’s writing~) it’s pretty freaking hot. At least I thought so; so much is atmosphere and character dynamics and concepts (visual, emotional, contrasting, reversing) for me, and this Has It.

So very recommended. ❤

*Rep spoiler: PAGAN. IT’S PAGAN. (The cover has a Celtic knot!) MEYER IS A LOVELY KIND PAGAN SINGLE FATHER TEACHING HIS ADORABLE DAUGHTER ABOUT THE DIVINITY OF NATURE AND BEAUTY IN ALL THINGS and wants her to grow up happy and loved and just… not have to worry about how the world is going to see her just yet. Or her dad(s?), and bisexuality, also often derided and misunderstood. My heart. It needed this.

Curved Horizon by Taylor Brooke My rating: 4 of 5 stars “It seemed as if history had its eyes on them, as if the storm raging far out on the open sea had tipped the world on its side. Here, it said, look at these two. Chelsea looked at Daisy. Here, the storm whispered, something as violent and turbulent and terrifying as what you’ve left behind. It’s yours for the taking. Here it is, made for you to love.” * * *

I received an advance copy in exchange for an honest review – and I can’t believe it took me this long to get to it. It’s not at all because I didn’t enjoy this book (I’ve loved the universe and characters since FORTITUDE SMASHED) but it did take me a while to read.

Part of that is because it’s not a short book, and the story does not move particularly quickly. I don’t think that’s a bad thing here though; it’s a romance and a character study with five subjects – the main characters and their romances (romantic and otherwise), and Laguna Beach. Yes, it’s one of those Setting Is A Character books, and I *love those.* When they’re done right they can envelop and transport you, and this, like its predecessor, does it with incredibly lush and colorful descriptions (often literally) of this place and the people in it.

CURVED HORIZON takes its time exploring all of them, and how they relate to one another. It meanders and lets readers soak in the atmosphere and slowly shifting dynamics. The twists are emotional and not overly stressful (until the last 1/4 or so), and all geared toward overcoming past trauma or dysfunction and healing together (MY BRAND), so the result is a cathartic but cozy journey. I feel like we always know they’ll end up together (as do the clocks in their thumbs), but it’s the getting there that’s half the fun.

And I honestly love all of them. I can’t pick a favorite; they’re all so well-rendered and fleshed out and real-feeling with their hopes, dreams, fears, and quirks. They surprise you – by the end of Book 1, Chelsea hadn’t quite grown on me, but now that I understand her better, I love her just as much as Daisy (who I always adored).

The only thing that occasionally grated on me (which, only one thing in a big book, that’s a pretty good ratio) was actually addressed in the text, but not completely. I’ve noticed for a while that most of the descriptions of how gorgeous everyone is (and they are gorgeous descriptions) tend to emphasize the characters’ thinness – except for Aiden once he starts working out. But we get hipbones, collarbones, slender waists and flat stomachs and sharp wrists and ribcages. So many bones. After a while… I found it a little wearing, like I always do when we’re inundated with Very Thin Very Pretty People, Who Are Very Thin. Which we too often are. In everything.

So I LOVED having it actually addressed that Chelsea’s parents had her on diets as well as controlling virtually every other aspect of her life, and Daisy helping her come to the glorious conclusion, “fuck diets.” Fuck them indeed. (Everyone’s still described as super thin and pretty after that, but it was a nice scene and acknowledgement.)

Lastly… I know it’s probably too much to ask, even in a book where polyamory is refreshingly recognized (by clocks!) and normal thing, but with all the internal wondering if clocks could be wrong, or partly mistaken… I kept hoping for some line that would acknowledge that even though the countdown hit zero for Daisy/Chelsea and Shannon/Aiden respectively, they’re all so important to each other by the end they might as well be one of those rare multiperson units. (Is Daisy any less Aiden’s Rose Road because their bond isn’t romantic? I’d argue they are. Same with Shannon and Chelsea, even if they tried romance and found it wasn’t right.) I know that the established story doesn’t allow for their actual counters to match, but these bonds *scream* queerplatonic to me, and it would have meant the world to see that in text.

In my head anyway, they all belong to each other, counters or no. The story certainly backs that up, even if there’s no overt acknowledgement. And having characters with that strong a bond – even with very different personalities – by the end is a *good thing.*

I hope so much for more.

Gale: A Sci-fi Novella by Lyssa Chiavari My rating: 5 of 5 stars “And this time, when the “dragon” opened its jaws, I would run into the light with joy in my heart.” * * *

Short but super-effective and memorable new queer-dystopian twist on an old story. I’ve read Lyssa’s other series starting with Fourth World, and my favorite part there is the worldbuilding and how well the crafted settings instill a slow-building feeling of ominous wrongness. The same thing happens here, though it’s a lot more fast-building given the short-story quickness. The intensity is the same, however, and it easily slips into one of those wonderful categories of “setting becoming character.” Atmosphere is everything, and this has it in spades, particularly in its contradictions (dystopian and classic, suspenseful and defiant, desolate and hopeful).

Readers familiar with Shakespeare will be able to follow and predict, especially due to the character names, but in retellings that’s half the fun. My favorite interpretation is Ari in general, particularly the whole… tree business. I was wondering how that would come about, and loved the execution. That and just the concepts at work here, the reality of what Gale is, and how ancient history… is often not nearly as ancient as it seems, or buried. Like the truth.

Also I just find f/f retellings delightful in general, and this is no exception. The dreamlike descriptions also help!

(Sadly, I can’t find my copy on any of my devices, or I totally would have done my usual favorite quote up top! It had a lot of good lines! EDIT: NVM, FOUND ONE! :D)

Love Bites: A Southern Gothic Short Story by Magen Cubed My rating: 5 of 5 stars “Make good choices!” she called after him. Dorian couldn’t make any promises in jeans this tight. * * *

A short and super enjoyable peek into an intriguing and entertaining world of vampires in Def Leppard shirts and skinny jeans, and the sexy hunters who crash into their lives. As always I love Magen Cube’s quick, biting (ha) writing style, and will definitely be picking up the full book!

No More Heroes by Michelle Kan My rating: 4 of 5 stars “Somewhere out there, there was somebody else just like them, a Vigilante using their Ability to own the night – and even if for a moment, it meant that they felt a little bit less alone.” * * *

I’ve been sitting on this review for a long time, and I’m sorry it’s taken me so long to get to it! This is a unique and memorable take on the superhero genre that… is hard to explain in some ways, the way it makes me feel, at least.

It kind of both follows and deconstructs the superhero literary convention in fascinating ways – secret identities, but often the Vigilante personas become every bit as real as the civilian. And sometimes they’re not constructs at all – Fang is fang. (God, I loved Fang. So much. Give me all the genderfluid characters exploring this through superhero-dom, give them to me now.) And all the compartmentalization, and what happens when those carefully separated worlds intersect.

It also plays with the idea of found family vs. solitude – a “vigilante” by definition is a lone, rogue hero, but here we find a loose-knit (but growing closer) group coming together to face a bigger threat – who are in themselves very much another found-family unit, or struck me as so. Neither side (of independence vs. cooperation) really seems to be the Ideal, and the story makes room for different character types working within that frame.

I enjoyed seeing the ensemble cast and reading from different perspectives, although I would have liked to have seen more of some of the new characters who come in around 2/3rds through; I didn’t feel like we quite got to know them as well as those we started with, and I wanted to, because the world is a pretty fascinating one, as is everyone in it.

In all, NO MORE HEROES is an intriguing debut that introduces a diverse set of characters navigating a fascinating and perilous world, and I think it has the potential to be something amazing. I really hope there will be more.

Mary: The Summoning by Hillary Monahan My rating: 5 of 5 stars “I despise that God is an absentee shepherd who has forsaken me and those I love. I am a creature born of injustice and fury.”

* * *

I freaking love when girls are allowed to be terrifying. I love when they’re allowed to be brutal and vengeful and *monstrous.* And I love when girls support each other and work together and let their bonds of friendship make each other strong. Fortunately, this book has both.

This book is a strange case in which there’s a definite antagonist, antithesis and deadly to the protagonist – and I love them both. I just really, really love Mary, I find her fascinating and sympathetic (even if she’s, uh, very determinedly trying to kill innocent people; funny how that works), and *loved* her journals and insights into who she was – this smart, brave, funny, snarky, tough, abused girl – before becoming the Bloody Mary who haunts the 21st century.

I LOVED that it’s not just mirrors too, but any reflective surface. I love new interpretations and expansions on established horror tropes, and I love them cleverly subverted.

I found the interactions between the main modern-day girls fascinating as well, and I *still* think there’s more going on with Jess than we know – and love the fact that she seems to be doing her best too in a terrible situation. Maybe not wisely or carefully or using good communication skills (but honestly, was I better at her age? LOL), but she’s trying.

…Basically I can’t wait for more. I really can’t. A good horror book is hard to find (but not as hard as movies), and one that centers badass girls being united even as they clash with each other is even rarer. My brain is ready.

2 views0 comments


bottom of page