Crystal’s House of Queers is a contemporary young adult novel about a group of friends who create a safe-haven for outcasts and gay teenagers within the home of Crystal, a high school senior with a crush on her classmate Haley. Crystal lives with her grandparents, but her grandfather comes down Covid-19 and Crystal is left to take care of the house and herself when her grandfather and her grandmother are both checked into the hospital. Payton, a new girl in school who is out and proud as a lesbian, meets Crystal in her art class they hit it off, bonding over their love of drawing and painting. Payton has custody of her younger sister and the two girls are traveling in a motorhome to get away from a rocky home life. With her grandparents in the hospital and the house now empty, Crystal invites them to stay with her. And so begins the formation of a house full of runaways, outcasts, and pride.
This week’s Top 5 Wednesday theme is Family Dynamics. I love family dynamics in books, and something I’ve been particularly focused on lately is siblings. Sibling relationships are fascinating to me because there is so much shared history and so many experiences that siblings go through together. You don’t get to pick your siblings, and you don’t always approve of everything they do, but they’re still family and you gotta stick together. There are lots of great examples of sibling relationships in fiction.
Call Down the Hawk
by Maggie Stiefvater
I love devoted siblings who will do anything for one another but will always be grumpy about it on the outside.
I feel like I truly discovered my deep love of Declan Lynch on my second reading of The Raven Cycle, but this book cemented it forever. I adore characters like Declan who are so fucking done with the bullshit their lives are throwing at them but they keep dealing with it because they are watching out for their young siblings. Also, his heartburn. I just… love how stressed out this poor man is.
by Tawni O’Dell
This is one of my favorite types of sibling dynamics to read about: a young and well-meaning character struggles to take care of his younger siblings after a parent dies, leaves, or, in the case of Harley Altmeyer, kills his other parent and goes to prison leaving him and his three sisters essentially orphaned.
Harley is 19 with three sisters ranging in age between six and sixteen. He is traumatized by the loss of his parents as well as a childhood of abuse, but he’s doing his best to take care of his sisters. The picture painted in Back Roads of mental health, poverty, life in a rural town, and the confusion of young adulthood has stayed with me for many years since I first read this book.
by C.L. Polk
The dynamic here is a great one: estranged siblings learning to trust each other again (with a few bumps in the road along the way).
Poor Miles and Grace were set up from childhood to have a difficult relationship: their father valued Grace’s magic and saw Miles as nothing more than a living battery that his sister could drain when she needed more power. Some of my favorite parts of Witchmark were of Miles standing up for himself to his sister and convincing her that he and the other Secondaries were valuable.
by Sarah Monette
This book is the answer to the question “what if someone took every single angst trope and assigned them to two brothers who then discover each other’s existence in their darkest hour of need?”
Melusine is by no means a perfect book, but my favorite part about it by far was the sibling dynamic between Felix and Mildmay. Mildmay is my archetypal favorite character: good intentions, highly skilled, unlucky as hell, and stuck in an awful situation. Reading along as he lovingly dragged Felix on a cross-country road trip was so endearing.
(Also, I can’t include this in a list of “sibling dynamic” books without mentioning that there are unrequited incestuous feelings from Felix toward Mildmay. I read that as a reaction to the abuse Felix suffered; I don’t think he was ever taught that he could love someone in any way that wasn’t sexual. I did mention that we’re going for every single angst trope here, right?)
by Patricia Briggs
I wanted to include an example of close-as-siblings dynamics, and this is one of my favorites. Ward and Oreg are not technically siblings (although they are probably very, very, very distantly related) but Ward treats Oreg like a little brother, to the point where Ward’s actual younger brother, Tosten, gets jealous of Oreg. I like seeing examples of friendships that form so deeply and tightly that they might as well be siblings, even if they’re not related by blood.
Wild Sky is an epic fantasy adventure set in a world where wild dragons roam the skies. The story begins with Tauran Darrica, a wounded veteran of dragon combat (we know something awful happened to him in the battle, we just don’t know exactly what), who is just barely scraping by after leaving the Sky Guard. Tauran returns to the city of Valreus, a place full of bittersweet memories of his time as a dragon rider in the Sky Guard. There he meets Kalai, an idealistic young foreigner who came to Valreus looking for adventure. Kalai happens to be in the right place at the right time and is given a job working for the Sky Guard as their archivist, translating old scrolls full of Dragon Advice from his native language into something the guard can use. Tauran and Kalai quickly bond over their shared enthusiasm for parenting: dragon parenting, that is. They work together to hatch a very large dragon egg that may or may not (no spoilers!) contain a very adorable, very feisty baby dragon.
Everything seems to be going pretty well, until wild dragons start attacking the city of Valreus. Tauran and Kalai, both dragon experts in their own ways, will need to figure out why the dragons are attacking and who exactly the enemy is.
While this book is primarily an adventure/mystery story, the representation of LGBTQ+ characters is top notch. Tauran and Kalai’s slow burn romance is the heart of the story, and their devotion to one another is sweet and endearing. The content is not explicit at all (no steamy scenes here) but there is lots of affection, touches, kisses, words of endearment. This is the way I like my romances, personally: emotional first and physical second.
In addition to our main pairing (one of whom is bi), we have trans rep with Catria, who is a wonderful side character that I adored: curly-haired girl who loves her dad is my jam.
On its face this book is a very light-hearted romantic adventure story, but for fans of angst and heartbreak there is actually a goldmine here too. This book is so impressive because of how subtly and beautifully the characters’ pain and trauma is explored. The genius comes in with Zaya Feli’s light touch; the writing never feels melodramatic, but results in some really beautiful moments of emotional catharsis. The characters are given the time and space to explore the ghosts of their past in a really satisfying way. Angst is often best when it’s interwoven gently into the narrative so that you can almost wonder if the author did it on purpose or if you’re reading something into it, and that’s exactly what you’ll find here. The emotional peaks in this story are all deeply integrated with the characters’ pain, trauma, guilt, and fear. Fans of fluff will be able to enjoy this book because it’s not in-your-face with dark tropes and suffering, but for those of us that like to see characters grappling with difficult situations, there is much to be found here as well.
I’m giving Wild Sky a 4.5 stars, rounded up to 5. There are so many things to love about it: the creativity, the depth of character development and world-building, the amazing message about finding acceptance and love.
Did I mention that I like Dark themes and angst? Well if I haven’t proven that yet, we’re going there today! Also note, this post will contain spoilers for some of the books mentioned (particularly The Song of Achilles).
This trope is one of my favorites. You start at the end of the story and give a weird, tantalizing setup. Then the rest of the book is explaining how you got to that point. It’s popular in movies (Deadpool) and television (the first episode of Breaking Bad), but I also love when it’s used in books. It’s basically a way of working in extensive backstory and flashbacks, another favorite trope of mine
Half Bad starts with teenaged Nathan in a really brutal situation: kept outside in cage, manacled, and forced to train in combat. When he tries to escape, the manacle on his wrist releases acid that melts his skin to the bone. He’s doing his best to cope with the abuse, using his “trick” of not caring about anything. And then suddenly the first section is over and we get to see exactly what led to this messed up situation in the first place.
I love books where the primary ship is solidified before we even meet them, or at least where the couple gets together early. I love seeing the love and the bond between characters tested by hardship, especially when they are deeply devoted to one another.
One of my favorite examples of this trope is Dragon’s Winter, because we start out with Azil and Karadur already as friends and lovers, but then we get to move forward in time to after Azil has unwittingly betrayed Karadur, been kidnapped, tortured, and finally returned. To see their love survive that kind of test is so beautiful!
This is a very specific and weird trope that I love, but it’s basically when a character has a complete and total breakdown after having something really horrible happen to them. Specifically I love it when they just lose their shit when their partner or lover dies. I love happy endings, but if I’m in the mood for tragedy I want balls-to-the-walls, no-coming-back-from-this-shit kind of tragedy.
Which is exactly why I love The Song of Achilles so much. After Patroclus is killed, Achilles loses his fucking mind. It’s not healthy to give up on life after a partner dies, but this is fiction and, for me, this is the just so damn romantic.
Break the cutie is a great trope, because it takes a character who is defined by their positive aspects and allows the stark contrast between their optimism and the gritty reality of the world to come into conflict.
Hunger Games is a great example of Breaking the Cutie, especially when it comes to the character of Peeta. There’s a lot to complain about with The Hunger Games, but one thing I think it did really well was being super mean to Peeta. If you like books that heap suffering on your favorite characters, The Hunger Games is where it’s at.
I don’t love the term “food porn”, but I do very much enjoy what it entails. What’s not to enjoy about authors lovingly describing plate after plate of savory, juicy, ripe, tender, roasted, sizzling, candied, overflowing… everything. Food porn is just fun and it’s a great way to do world-building.
I love food porn in general, but as a vegan the feasts at Redwall Abbey have stood the test of time for me as a food porn favorite. Brian Jacques makes vegetables sound so damn delicious. I loved this series as a child and to this day I remember learning how to bake scones to pass out in elementary school while I presented my book report on Redwall.
* This post contains spoilers for all the books of the Wode Series, including Summerwode and Wyldingwode.
Wyldingwode is what happens when fate rips the Ceugant apart again, but this time our characters are a little bit older and a lot more mature. At the end of Summerwode we saw our three main characters separated by fate: Robyn pulled into Barrow Mere, Gamelyn under the yoke of the Templars, and Marion left to manage hearth and home at Tickhill with new baby Aderyn. At the outset of this tale, we’ve moved forward a few years in time, but not much else has changed. Robyn is still missing, Gamelyn is still being drawn away by his Templar masters, Marion is still occupied defending Tickhill and her status as a peasant and a woman among the lords of the land.
Here’s a perfect example of a pretty cover hiding a book that absolutely did not deserve it.
There were some good things about Autonomous. Let’s see…
The bisexual representation was nice to see.
The futuristic world was fun and dystopian at the same time: they have fuzzy foam furniture and plants can grow out of people’s’ heads. But also… slaves. I enjoyed the dichotomy. Not everything is perfect or amazing.
The friendship between Med and Threezed. They were, beyond a doubt, my favorite characters in the book. I loved the way their upbringings flipped the societal expectations for robot and human “childhood” experiences.
Some of the politics of ownership and open-license was interesting and felt like a very plausible extension of current the copyright/open-source situation.
While I liked those things and enjoyed much of this book, I actually ended up kind of resenting it because of one very significant plot thread:
Paladin and Eliasz. Other reviewers have touched on this and done a very good job of tackling why this is a disturbing plot. I’ve read some defenses of the book say something along the lines of “having a homophobic character doesn’t reflect the author’s views”. That’s true, of course, but it’s also perfectly valid to say that I didn’t like this book because it contained homophobia that wasn’t condemned in any way, and was actually rewarded in the end. Eliasz gets to have exactly what he wants: a view of Paladin as female and a robot that he can be sexually attracted to without confronting his homophobic bigotry at all. Reading this, it felt like it was supposed to be a happy, ride-off-into-the-sunset type of ending. It seemed like the author wanted us to cheer on Paladin and Eliasz and root for them as a couple. Not every book has to have a happy ending or advance a progressive agenda, but I also don’t have to like books that show homophobia and bigotry and act like those are ok opinions that nice people have.
Awww, kid-me would have absolutely LOVED Proxy! Kid-me would have been so into this. She would have fallen for Syd and identified too much with Marie and totally shipped Syd/Knox. She would never have asked questions like “why the hell are proxies even a thing, that makes no sense” or wondered about the likelihood of that many young children putting themselves into crippling debt to voluntarily go to school. She definitely wouldn’t have cussed out that old man for sending a bunch of kids into the desert alone and then somehow beating them to their destination totally unscathed like Glinda in Oz. Yeah, kid-me would not have cared about that stuff because she would have been busy enjoying the sad, tragic lives of these pretty, too-good-for-this-cruel-world teens.
Summerwode is the fourth book (out of an anticipated five) in the Wode series by J. Tullos Hennig. This story is (I believe) loosely based on The Tale of Gamelyn, which is a Canterbury Tale as well as actual English history from this time period, including a recorded siege of Nottingham Castle in 1194. Richard the Lionheart had been ransomed from Henry VI and is returning to English shores. Our band of outlaws had made some progress toward legitimacy in Winterwode, and now a royal pardon is within their grasp. Meanwhile, old enemies are plotting revenge and the leaders of the Templar Knights have their own agenda and seem to want to seize control of the magic of the Wode.
What do you get when you take a pretty, but otherwise average, easy-going, modern American woman and suddenly embroil her in a world of vampires, demons, and other secret supernatural threats that lurk in the shadows of our everyday world, introducing her along the way to a brooding, menacing, snarky, but ultimately good vampire who happens to be the hottest man she’s ever seen? Well, if you’re lucky you get Buffy! If you’re not so lucky, you might end up with Night Pleasures.