Cocktales (The Cocky Collective Anthology) edited by Penny Reid

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This anthology was inspired by a gross human being making poor choices, and I loved reading and supporting this! Also, you only have until August 26th (a day before my birthday) to buy this collection of stories from so many amazing and beloved authors! Don’t miss out, loves! All net profits will be donated to the authors already impacted by creative-obstruction (10%), and Romance Writers of America (RWA) (90%) as a general donation intended for their Advocacy Fund.

This is a collection of 39 short, but very steamy, reads. I only had read a handful of the authors that were a part of this, but now I have so many new authors on my TBR! Also, please know that this is for sure a collection of sexy stories, many with explicit scenes!

I have two negative things to say! First, there is way too much heterosexuality in this. There is only one confirmed queer relationship, and it’s m/m. With this many stories? Come on. And how great would a w/w story been in an anthology called Cocktales? What a missed opportunity. I’m not familiar enough with all these authors to know all their ethnicities, but I am aware that it’s probably mostly white authors, and that’s not okay either. Next, I’ll say that many of these are short stories from the authors’ already established worlds and series. Therefore, some of these just felt pointless, short, and I was completely unable to connect with them. So, know that going in, because it was for sure a problem I had with a lot of these.

But I did enjoy so many of these stories, too! A few of my favorites were from Jana Aston, Karpov Kinrade, Lex Martin, Liv Morris, Kylie Scott, and Leia Stone! But my ultimate favorite was Until the Cock Crows by Sierra Simone! I need the full-length version of this now. Please. This was perfection.

But, like I do with all anthologies, I’ll break down all my thoughts and feelings about all the stories in this collection!

DYLAN ALLEN Cocked and Loaded ★★
This one is about a woman in her thirties wanting to get back at a boy who was rude to her when she was twelve, so she comes up with a revenge plot to leave him wanting more of her via Tinder. I just didn’t think this was too believable, especially holding a grudge that long over something so dumb. Also, their screen names were totally something that no human in their early thirties would ever use, hence the title of this short. Yet, I did like the sex scene a lot.

JANA ASTON Double Cocked ★★★★★

“It’s a slippery slope back there, ladies. Admitting you enjoy their finger in your ass quickly escalates to their cocks prodding for entry.”

You all, I loved this one. It stars a strong (some would say unlikeable) woman who knows what she wants, and she isn’t afraid to tell her sexual partners or anyone else. And what she wants is a polyamorous relationship. This was dirty, this was hot, and this was everything I wanted from this collection. But there are a couple of jokes made in bad taste, but the sex in this was honestly some of the hottest word combinations I’ve ever read. And the ending was high key perfect. I’d give this six stars if I could.

This was a cute story about an unexpected blind date unexpectedly turning into a good date, especially since the main character was never expecting to see said blind date again. This was fine, but it just didn’t feel like anything special to me.

SAWYER BENNETT A Wicked, Cocky Plan: A Prequel to Wicked Force ★★★
First off, this is set in Vegas, so it immediately got brownie points with me. But this is a story about a famous singer who is being stalked, and after a close call with her life, she goes to a person from her past who has always kept her safe (and owns a security firm), even if they didn’t leave each other on the best of terms twelve years ago. And a fake relationship begins! But, sadly, this entire story is just a teaser for the start of the full story that will come out in 2019! But, I am super excited for more.

K.F. BREENE Magical Cock and Bull ★★★
You know, I’m always looking for a new Adult Fantasy Romance, so I think I’m going to check this author out. This was a steamy and magical read about a vampire and a shifter who happen to have their paths cross, and then they choose to cross them one more time.

RUTH CLAMPETT Don’t Get Cocky ★★★

“And who does he think he is, having his lawyers send cease and desist demands to existing users of the title when we haven’t even made a cartoon yet?”

I didn’t love this story, but holy moly did Ruth Clampett go in! Like, the parallels in this story had me grinning from ear to ear. And even though this wasn’t my favorite in the collection, I’m giving her all the props and respect for this tale she created.

L.H. COSWAY Illusionist Seeks Neanderthal
This just reads like a black sheep on the collection. Nothing romantic or sexy happens. Just borderline cheating and gross comments about girls and math, kids and videogames, and the use of the slur g*psie. No sexy times, just uncomfortable banter. And maybe I would have enjoyed more if I knew these two characters from the author’s previous works, but I didn’t.

AMY DAWS Cock and Balls ★★★★★
You all, this one just worked for me. I loved the couple and how she was a doctor and he was football player. I loved the Scottish setting. I loved the eloping. And I know fireplace, big, fluffy, furry rug sex is a little cliché, but I loved it too. I’m for sure going to check out this author’s other works!

This was so short, and honestly just felt like another tease to buy more from the author. But the super short snippet wasn’t enough to make me want to.

BB EASTON Cocky BB: Two Boys, One Prom ★★★★
Okay, this really intrigued me for a few reasons. One, the author writes about her real life. Two, the story was super addicting. And three, this has a super sexy scene that left me wanting more. Some of the elements were on the problematic side (lots of TW for abuse, drug use, and eating disorders), but I was so invested with the story and it was completely able to captivate me.

JAYMIN EVE The Cockier the Dragon, the Harder they Fall ★★
I really liked the introduction to this world, and dragon-shifters sound freaking amazing, but I felt like I couldn’t connect just because I was so unfamiliar with the world.

EMMA HART Tricky Bond
I just… didn’t love this one. I feel like to enjoy this one, you’d really have to be familiar with the author’s other works and worlds. But, I just didn’t care about this couple on a bird hunt. And the ending left so much to be desired.

STACI HART Cockamamie ★★★★
You know what? I loved this one. It was short, and left you wanting more, and totally felt like it was created specially for this anthology. Also, all the props for coming up with as many cock references as this author did. I’m so impressed. And I can’t wait to read more about the mis-sent email!

JESSICA HAWKINS Cocky Couture ★★★★
This was super well written and super sexy. I loved this, and I loved the dynamic of a relationship between a photographer and a secret model. Love, love, loved. This would have gotten five stars, but the photographer got a little too toxic when he didn’t want to photograph her (from the front) in a thong, but was okay with her wearing nude, sheer, things that made her look naked. Like, what? But, I still loved this.

JULIE JOHNSON Culinary Cock-Up ★★★★

“Looking at you, Shmordon Shmamsey—and no one makes a peep about it. Meanwhile, we females are expected to coddle and comfort our way to the top, soothing our staff into basic competence instead of scolding them for lacking it entirely.”

Okay, I never thought I needed an enemies to lovers romance from after culinary school, but here we are. I loved the premise of this, and I want so much more. Also, this brought up some great gender double standards in the kitchen and out of it, and I was so here for it.

KARPOV KINRADE Crimson Cocktail ★★★★★

“And so, our adventures begin. Oh, the libraries I will see. The books I will read. The lives I will live. And all with this man beside me.”

Um, I fell so completely in love with this. Librarian, Las Vegas, and… Vampires? Holy moly, this was perfect. And this is one of the main reasons I love anthologies. I can’t wait to read more from this world.

Again, I didn’t know these characters or care about these characters. I don’t care about whose in charge of the will. And I surley don’t want to read about a girl being insecure about her body and stretchmarks, while her husband convinces her they make her more beautiful. This one really didn’t work for me.

LEX MARTIN Love & Hate at the Stallion Station ★★★★★
You all, I loved this one. I normally don’t like the “cowboy” romance thing, but this was adorable and sexy, respectful and dominant, and just made for a perfect read. This was a cute mix of enemies to lovers, and also friends to lovers, but also a second chance romance sort of too. I don’t know, but I loved it. Also, the sex was 11/10. For sure a favorite of the entire collection.

ALY MARTINEZ Going Down ★★★
Finally, something not straight! I actually thought this was a cute m/m romance! And it was quick and funny, but still really heartfelt and romantic!

KAYTI MCGEE Cocksure Co-Star ★★★★★
This was funny as hell, and sexy as hell. The enemies, to fuck buddies, to lovers, was so great between these two people who were forced to become costars. And their energy and banter together was perfection. I loved this one. And I really, really want to read more about these two!

I’m really not into military romances, and I’m really, really, really not into possessive fathers that use fear tactics to scare their daughter’s dates. Especially when the daughter is even constantly saying that they are only friends, not that that should even matter. This just didn’t work for me and I hate that people keep romanticizing this toxic, gross, behavior from adult men.

LIV MORRIS Getting It Up ★★★★★
You know what? This was the perfect story for this anthology, because it’s only all about a cock. This stars a doctor who specializes in penis, and a baseball player that feels like his member is no longer working, that is, until he meets her. And then she becomes his only hope! It’s a little corny, it’s a bit over the top, and it even has a scene where the woman reads him erotica aloud, but it’s perfect for this anthology and it made me want to read more by this author. Oh, and bonus points for the Hitachi! I loved this. Perfection! Easily one of my favorites in the collection.

RED PHOENIX Her Cocky Russian ★★★★
This was pure erotica, but it totally and completely worked. This starred what I think was a polyamorous relationship, that was Dom, Dom, sub (m/m/w) and it was all kinds of naughty.

DAISY PRESCOTT Confessions of a Cockblocked Wingman ★★★★
I really enjoyed this one! This was a cute story, about a man who is shopping for his wife, with their new son, and he’s getting a lot of attention in the grocery store. But he goes home and is thankful to share his life with his beautiful family. This was just sweet, and pure, and sexy, and I really enjoyed it.

JESSICA PRINCE A Cocky Corruption Engagement ★★
This was cute, but just disjointed. It’s about a girl shopping with her friend for her friend’s wedding, when she gets a big surprise herself. This wasn’t bad, it just wasn’t memorable.

MEGHAN QUINN Fight or Flight
Again, this was a tease for a new series, and nothing happened. It is about two air force cadets, and the authors note at the end said a “big twist” is coming, but, like, I think it’s just going to be a m/m romance. And, the set up wasn’t very good, if I’m being completely honest.

PENNY REID Beard and Hen ★★★
This was cute and sweet, but I love Penny Reid and her writing so much that I was just expecting more. But she really did embrace what this collection is about and took it to that “cock” level in the truest form. This was a fun read, but not my favorite.

CD REISS Cocky Capo ★★★★★
This is easily the most well written in the collection. I honestly forgot I was reading a short story, and felt like I was reading the start of a brand new book. This was sad, sexy, and heartfelt. Really well done, and for sure a star of this anthology

JULIE A. RICHMAN The Color of Love
I just felt very uncomfortable reading this one. The way the boy love-interest’s skin color was described was also not well done. And I feel like a full-length story could turn into something more problematic.

This story just felt like so many of the major pieces were missing. I didn’t dislike it, but it read so hard to follow. I really enjoyed the bonus story though. A lot, a lot. I kind of wish it was the only part included.

KENNEDY RYAN All: A Grip & Bris Story ★★★★★

“I believe in all the things cynics despise. First kisses on Ferris wheels. Soul mates and once-in-a lifetime loves. I believe in fifty years and forever.”

Oh my word, I loved this. I am sad that I haven’t read this series yet (soon, I promise), but Kennedy Ryan can write a sex scene. I loved the characters, I loved the celebration of motherhood, I loved this. And this felt like a full story, too. This was a romantic and sexy treat to read and I loved every page.

KYLIE SCOTT Short Story with Mal and Anne from The Stage Dive Series ★★★★★

“If you didn’t get girl juice all over your hands and at least half your face when you gave head, then frankly, you weren’t doing it right.”

Okay, I know “girl juice” is a gross term, but that quote is true. Also, this was one of the few short stories that take place in a series I’ve always read! I loved seeing Mal and Anne from The Stage Dive series, and this is probably TMI – but I’ve kind of always wanted to have sex in a bookstore. Also, this was just a fucking cute and sexy roleplay scene and I was living for it from start to finish.

SIERRA SIMONE Until the Cock Crows ★★★★★

“For a preacher, he sure fucked like a god.”

I just read a book by this author this year! And I was not expecting a story about a Reverend in this collection, but I was so pleasantly surprised! Also, even though this is a relationship between a man and a woman, he never assumes she’s straight. And they both heavily stress consent and talk about their history and bodies before acting upon any urges; making sure they know what the other one wants. This was a breath of fresh air. I actually loved this. Also, this was hot as fuck. Easily some of the best sex in this collection. And the first talk was A+. This was my favorite of the collection. And I’m really not sure what that says about me, but I was honestly crossing and uncrossing my legs constantly while reading this. Perfection.

TARA SIVEC Chocolate and Cockup ★★
What and the fuck did I just read? Oh my word. Okay, I’m giving this two stars because I’m impressed the authors went there. This is a story about six older people, living in a retirement home together, when they spent their lives together owning a sex toy business. Let your imagination take the wheel. Bye.

KATE STEWART The Golden Sombrero
I would have guessed this was written by a man, honestly. There are some gross gender stereotypes all up in this story. And It didn’t even make sense that the dudes thought that not allowing themselves to have sex would help them with their baseball training. On top of ignoring their wives needs. So, the reader is forced to read about these wives throwing themselves at their husbands for sex. Like, miss me with all this. Please.

LEIA STONE Cocky Alpha ★★★★★

“That smart-mouthed asshole came into my shop every new moon, and it took everything in me not to throw a penis shrinking spell right at his crotch. He was the cockiest alpha male I’d ever met, and that was saying a lot for a witch who ran a supernatural spell shop.”

Witches, werewolves, and vampires, oh my! This was a paranormal romance treat. I loved Dax and Tatiana and this was such a perfect addition to this anthology. I can’t wait to read more from this author and more from this world!

KARLA SORENSEN Tristan & Anna: A Bachelors of the Ridge short story ★★★★
This was such a cute and heartwarming story about two people who are about to start their lives together; both in marriage and parenthood. And the use of the rooster in this was so dang clever. This was a really sweet read that I really enjoyed!

Like, I’ll never be here for a dude getting mad at a male doctor because he’s looking at his wife’s vagina. Especially to deliver a baby. Like, miss me with all that gross thinking and enforcing please. I’m so sad that this was one of the last stories.

APRIL WHITE Code of Conduct ★★
I liked that not only did the main character mention gaming, I am pretty sure this is the only story to have disability rep, because the main character has a prosthetic leg. But I felt like this was a really odd choice to close this anthology off with. It was an alright story, but it really didn’t feel like it fit in the collection, and especially not to wrap up the anthology.

Out of a possible 195 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 39 stories) this collection accumulated 122 stars (~63%). But I very much recommend, just because of #CockyGate!

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A Thousand Beginnings and Endings edited by Ellen Oh & Elsie Chapman

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ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

This is the anthology I’ve been waiting my entire life for. As a Filipina woman, I have no words to express how happy my heart is to just read a collection of short stories that are all ownvoices. And at the end of each short story is an author note on why they wrote the story that they did. And, I think I cried reading at least 75% of the author’s notes. This anthology is so beautiful, so powerful, and it means more to me than I have word combinations to express.

“We fell in love with all those myths about powerful gods being vulnerable, about humans becoming heroes. Such stories taught us about mythology, about the beauty of folktales and legends, and about how stories of gods and goddesses are also stories about the human heart. But we never found similar compilations that were distinctly Asian.”

Friends, please preorder this and fall in love, too! If you’d like to get me a birthday gift this year, please just preorder this, read, and review this collection. Honestly, it’s the only thing I want in 2018. I’ll beg, I’ll plead, I’ll scream from the rooftops: please preorder this anthology and show the world that Asian stories can not only sell, but can also change lives. I will cherish this book forever and ever. (While also apparently rereading Roshani’s from my ARC copy over the phone to my grandmother 100 times!)

This collection honestly has so many amazing additions, but my personal favorites were Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi, Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong, The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon, and Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa. But my all-time favorite of the collection was The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers.

But I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Forbidden Fruit by Roshani Chokshi – ★★★★★

“It was an ill-fated thing to claim that a heart is safe. Hearts are rebellious. The moment they feel trapped, they will strain against their bindings.”

I am in tears writing this. Best opening story of any anthology ever. This is a version of the Philippine mythos of Maria Makiling that my grandma has been telling me stories of since I was a little girl. And Roshani’s take on it was beyond words beautiful. This opening story was enough for me to preorder three copies of this book. And I know I’m being completely biased, but this was nothing short of magnificent, and I’ll cherish it forever and ever. Roshani, thank you, with every bone in my body, thank you.

Olivia’s Table by Alyssa Wong – ★★★★★

“Can’t they see the ghosts all the time?” she asked. “Not like you and I can. The Festival is when ghosts are most themselves instead of what the living want them to be. Not everyone will like what they see tonight.”

Everyone knows I’m a huge fangirl of Alyssa Wong, but the reason for that is because she truly writes the best short fiction out there right now. There are so many amazing authors out there, but talent like Alyssa’s, where it just shows that she was meant to weave words together and craft these life changing stories, is so rare, but so awe-inspiring. She is such a blessing to the literary world, and I’m forever thankful. Every anthology collection I’ve read that includes a story from her ends up being ten times better for the inclusion. And her story always ends up completely stealing the show, my soul, and my heart, while also becoming my favorite. And Olivia’s Table was no different. This is a perfect story about a girl dealing with grief and depression but honoring her family by cooking at the Hungry Ghost Festival. And this was such an honor to read, and I know I’ll carry this tale with me forever. TW/CW: loss of a loved one, terminal illness, grief, and depression.

Steel Skin by Lori M. Lee – ★★★★

“The brain is just a highly complex circuit of electrical impulses, so it stands to reason that it can be artificially manufactured. Scientists have been trying to understand this process for decades. What. Makes. Emotion?”

This is a sci-fi tale about a girl and her strained relationship with her father, who hasn’t been the same since her mother died (TW/CW: loss of a loved one, grief, and abandonment). But she and her friend soon start to unravel a mystery concerning the androids that were recalled long ago for being too intelligent. And this was such a beautiful story, with such an amazing ending. And the end note about this reimagining of The Woman and the Tiger, a Hmong folktale, completely made me fall even harder in love.

Still Star-Crossed by Sona Charaipotra – ★★★

“You don’t know how to choose until you’re right there, on the precipice, giving away your everything for something that may be real or may be a shadow, a ghost you’re chasing.”

This one wasn’t my favorite in the collection, just because it stars a young girl at a club with her friend when a strange young man appears and keeps following them. I mean, all the red flags, right? And even though his intentions always seemed good, it still made me uncomfortable to read. I did love the author’s note for this one, I just sadly didn’t love this vision. But oh my gosh, the atmosphere and the food descriptions? Perfection. Like, don’t read this if you’re hungry, because my stomach is growling just thinking about the food and drinks from this short story.

The Counting of Vermillion Beads by Aliette De Bodard – ★★★★★

“We can’t go home, but that doesn’t mean we have to be caged.”

I loved this tale about two sisters and that unconditional bond. This story felt so full, so atmospheric, so perfect. This story was inspired by Tấm and Cám, but the version that Aliette De Bodard created is so heartwarming and so inspiring. This is an empowering little tale, that truly emphasizes that we can be anything we want in this world, with whoever we are in this world, regardless of what others want to shape and mold us to be.

The Land of the Morning Calm by E. C. Myers – ★★★★★

“I finally know how it ends.”

I cried through 80% of this story. Easily, this was one of my new favorite short stories of all time. I will never forget this story for as long as I live. And I am immediately buying everything E. C. Myers has created. This is a story about a gwisin (ghost), and a girl that is still dealing with the death of her mother, five years later. It doesn’t help that she’s still living with her father and her mother’s father (her grandfather), who reminds her of her mother’s presence constantly. But it is undeniable when the MMO that was her mother’s life, and the reason her parents met, is being shut down forever, but has drawn Sunny into playing again. And Sunny has just found out about a new private server that will preserve the game, and maybe the memory of her mother. I loved this more than words. MMORPGs have meant so much to me during my life. I have played them since high school, and I have some of my very best friends and loved ones to this day because of them. And this short story is a love letter to video games and the impact they can make on your life. And video games are such a huge part of Korean culture, and the significance and importance shined through this story so very brightly. This story just had such a profound meaning to me, because it made me realize that one day I’m (hopefully) going to be a mom that is a gamer, and a con lover, and a writer, and so many of the things that Sunny viewed her mom as. Like, I promise, I was bawling through almost this entire story. This was beyond words beautiful. I have no word combination to string together to let you all know how perfect this was and how much this story meant to me. TW/CW: death, loss of a parent. And RIP to my favorite NPC of all time, Ephoenix (Ezra Chatterton).

The Smile by Aisha Saeed – ★★★★★
South Asian

“Belonging meant he could place me wherever he liked, whether in his bed or in this dank tower. Belonging is not love. It never was.”

This was so beautiful, I couldn’t help but fall in love. I need a full-length of this story, I need to know what happens next, I need so much more. But I guess that’s the beauty of this tale; anything could happen next. This is an extremely feminist short story about a girl who serves a prince who is in love with her. But this story is about love, and how it should only be given freely and to those deserving. Seriously, this is such a treat of a story. I think this will be one that everyone who picks up this anthology will love.

Girls Who Twirl and Other Dangers by Preeti Chhibber – ★★★★

“There are three reasons I know fall is awesome: the most anticipated Bollywood movies are always on a fall release schedule, my mom starts practicing her delicious party dishes, and it means it’s time for Navrātri!”

I loved this adorable story that switched between Hinduism mythos, and to current time to a girl celebrating Navaratri at a party with her friends, while they also plot revenge on a boy that’s being rather rude. Navaratri is celebrated in honor of good defeating evil, and the battle of Durga and Mahishasura, a buffalo demon. And Preeti Chhibber does such a wonderful job transitioning and showcasing these two stories together. Also, I just loved learning about this Hindu holiday that’s so empowering to women. This was expertly crafted and such a joy to read.

Nothing into All by Renée Ahdieh – ★★★★

“Many years ago, a girl and a boy lived with their parents in a bark-shingled home near a flowing river’s edge.”

Oh, this was such a fun and whimsical read! This was a super unique spin on The Goblin Treasure, which is actually a story I grew up hearing, too. But Renée Ahdieh did such a wonderful job making me feel every single thing for this set of siblings. And there is such a wonderful message about how we all carry goodness and badness inside of ourselves, but how we choose our actions based on which is what is truly important.

Spear Carrier by Rahul Kanakia – ★★
South Asian

“When I’d agreed to his offer, it was because I had thought I’d be a hero.”

This is a long short story about what it truly means to be a hero, and if being a hero only means accomplishing what you set out to do or winning the battle you set out to fight. There are a ton of lighthearted pop culture references in this, but a ton of hard-hitting questions of war and what is worth losing one’s life for. I just thought that sometimes the writing was a little too harsh and a little too dry for me.

Code of Honor by Melissa de la Cruz – ★★

“I almost murdered a girl yesterday…”

Friends, I’m heartbroken. I was supposed to love this one! I just read the Fresh Ink anthology, and Melissa de la Cruz’s story was easily my favorite out of the entire collection! But this? This just didn’t work for me at all. It’s about a vampire that is living in hiding, but has lost her journal that has a spell attached to it, so no human can read it. But it is still causing her a lot of trouble. Also, TW/CW for sort of a graphic animal comment, since she feeds from them. One line in this kind of made me shudder upon reading, so use caution. But I think this might be a set-up or something for her series Blue Bloods, but it just really felt strange being a part of this anthology, and I really didn’t enjoy it as much as it pains me to say.

Bullet, Butterfly by Elsie Chapman – ★★★★★

“Don’t forget we’re only ever soldiers here in Shangyu, and soldiers never get to be the ones who wake up from a spell, or who even get to break a spell. We’re just the dragons guarding the gate, ordered to keep breathing the fire of those who cast the spell in the first place.”

I loved this so much. I loved this more than words. This is a reimagining of the Chinese legend Butterfly Lovers, and it was so beautiful and so impactful. The theme of loyalty to one’s family, but also to one’s heart and happiness is constant throughout this tale. And just all of the ways that war impacts every single person, whether they are forced to create, forced to fight, or forced to any duty against their true heart’s desires. This story was wonderful and made me such an emotional mess. For sure a highlight in this already amazing anthology.

Daughter of the Sun by Shveta Thakrar – ★★★★
South Asian

“She sang for her parents, for the hue-switching heavens, for herself. She read fairy tales, epics, and legends and imagined performing them on a stage draped in velvet. But it wasn’t enough. She longed for a friend.”

This was a beautiful story inspired by two of the stories in the longest epic poem in history, The Mahābhārata. One about Princess Savitri and Prince Satyavan, and one about Ganga and Shantanu. This was a moving story about destiny and sacrifice and how important it is to always follow your heart, regardless of the outcomes and/or circumstances. And I was high-key living for the feminist undertones that were expertly woven throughout this.

The Crimson Cloak by Cindy Pon – ★★★★★

“…whatever I might make for myself in this life: hearth, home, or family—they would mean nothing without you.”

Please, excuse me while I go buy more from Cindy Pon because this story was one of the greatest blessings of 2018. And this is her version of the Chinese folklore tale of Cowherd, and the magical girl who saw him first. I actually had never heard of this tale before, so I spent some time afterwards reading everything I could, and I am even more in love. This is for sure one of the best stories in this anthology, and Cindy Pon’s giving a voice to this magical, fairy, weaver girl is something so beautiful I don’t even have words for it. One of the most romantic short stories I’ve ever read too. All the feels, all the happiness, all the tears.

Eyes like Candlelight by Julie Kagawa – ★★★★★

“She could charm bears with that smile, Takeo thought. If he were a bear, he would lie down with his head in her lap and not move until the hunters came for him.”

I loved this with every fiber of my being. I loved this writing so much that I think I’m actually going to pick up everything I’ve been neglecting on reading from Julie Kagawa, too. Like, this was the perfect closing story. And it surrounded one of my favorite mythical creatures of all time: Kitsunes! Again, the writing was so perfect, I was instantly teleported into this small village. The main character, Takeo, was the sweetest little cinnamon roll. And this short story was honestly perfect in every way. And the ending of this was absolutely haunting. I would buy and read anything else about this heartbroken girl, and the small boy that missed so much because of evil men.

Out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 63 stars (84%). But I am giving this five stars regardless, because I loved it so much. The stories in this collection meant more to me than I have words for. And I truly hope you all pick this up upon release.

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Fresh Ink: An Anthology edited by Lamar Giles

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ARC provided by the publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.

First off, I’m a cis, extremely white passing reviewer. I have been able to see myself in literature and media my entire life, regardless of how much my Filipino culture means to me and how proud of it I am. So even though all of these stories are ownvoices, this review you are about to read is not. After publication, I will feature some actual ownvoices reviews here because this anthology was created to support and boost diverse and marginalized voices, therefore we should also be supporting and boosting diverse and marginalized reviewers. (If you’re a PoC who would like to have your review listed on mine, please DM me on any platform!)

“It became pretty freaking clear that, book after book, adventure after adventure, the heroes weren’t like me at all. I don’t mean short and moderately athletic with severe seasonal allergies, because I’m aware those traits might hinder one’s ability to save the city/world/galaxy. I mean black boys. More often than not, if I ran across a character who shared my race and gender in a book he was a gross stereotype, comic relief, token sidekick, or, depending on genre (I’m looking at you, science fiction, fantasy, and horror), there to die so the real hero could fight another day.”

Next, friends, this was amazing. Like, go get your preorders ready. This is so worth every single penny. And if you have some extra money, maybe you’d be interested to donating to We Need Diverse Books as well. And hopefully one day we will live in a world where every child can easily see themselves in all media. And the first step to that is showing the world how important books like Fresh Ink are, and how these stories are quite literally life-changing.

This book has so much! Black stories, Asian stories, Native stories, Persian stories, Latinx stories, Muslim stories, Bi stories, Trans stories! Contemporary stories, play acts, fantasy stories, historical stories, sweet stories, heavy stories, superhero stories! And every single one is ownvoices. What a damn blessing in 2018. I’m not sure I’ve ever been as proud reviewing a book as I am reviewing Fresh Ink.

My personal favorites were Meet Cute by Malinda Lo, Why I Learned to Cook by Sara Farizan, One Voice by Melissa de la Cruz , and Super Human by Nicola Yoon, but I promise there is so much to love on every single page of this anthology. I have no word combination to let you all know how powerful and amazing this collection is.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Eraser Tattoo by Jason Reynolds – ★★★★
This was so beautifully written, and it was able to evoke so many emotions from me despite this being so short. This is a story about a girl and boy who have grown up together, and who having fallen in love over the years, having to say goodbye because one of them is moving away. But while the girl and her family are moving, we also get to see a white family moving in and their disregard for the black family packing up and leaving the home they’ve known for most their lives. This was a perfect opener to this collection.

Meet Cute by Malinda Lo – ★★★★★
This was perfection in every single way. Like, to genderbend and racebend cosplays, to living that constantly queer life of always questioning if the person you are currently flirting with is also queer, to all the nerdy references, to the call out of me never being able to hide my blushing, to the feeling of claustrophobia and anxiousness in hectic crowd settings. This felt like a love letter to myself in every way, and it was easily the story I most connected to. This also has such an important discussion about “geek culture” and how toxic it can be, and how gross dudes can be towards girls. And this story stars two girls whose paths happen to cross at a convention center, while a big storm causes the power to go out. And if you like The X-Files and Star Trek, you have to buy this anthology for this story alone! I can’t stop smiling just thinking about this one. I loved it. And give me all the w/w stories! Masterpiece.

Don’t Pass Me By by Eric Gansworth – ★★★★
This was an amazing short story, that packed such a powerful punch. We follow a Native boy who lives on a reservation but is forced to go to a Junior High where he is in the vast minority. This story talks about how some people of color are more white passing, or people who are biracial, or how some choose to hide their heritage, and how some stand out now regardless of their wants or wishes. This also heavily talks about how white is the norm in most classrooms, and how hurtful that can be to teens who are proud of who they are and their beautiful not white skin color.

Be Cool for Once by Aminah Mae Safi – ★★★★★
Friends, this was just written completely captivating for me. The conversations, the setting, the feeling of having a crush, this was just such an accurate depiction of my high school experience, and I loved it. I legit giggled tears over the Anne Boleyn conversation. Also, full disclosure here, my first kiss was at a similar concert experience as this, so this story was just completely perfect for me. All the feels. And this story’s main character is a Muslim-American teen whose parents immigrated to The United States, and the boy she is crushing over stated that his grandparents immigrated to The United States. After reading this, I instantly added Not the Girls You’re Looking for to my TBR, because this was such an addicting read! I truly fell in love with this author’s writing

Tags by Walter Dean Myers – ★★★★★
This was beyond words powerful. This story is told by one act in a play that I wish the world could actually see. We get to see four boys recounting the reason they died, while hoping their tags will keep them remembered. Systemic oppression is highlighted in this story, and how we allow black men and women to die because of the broken cycles we’ve never abolished. It’s a different kind of slavery, and police brutality and internalized racism enforce it. This script evoked so much emotion from me, and seeing these young men’s stories cross is something I don’t even have words for. Seriously, this is a must read. Not just from this collection, but from all the works being published in 2018. Also, I’m reporting this with a very heavy heart, but the author of this story passed away a few years ago. But I am forever thankful that his beautiful work was still incorporated into this anthology.

Why I Learned to Cook by Sara Farizan – ★★★★★
This story has a Persian bi main character, and I’ve never felt so blessed. This w/w romance was also the damn cutest. Yasi also has anxiety and is feeling a little anxious to come out to her Grandmother, who immigrated to the United States from Iran seventeen-years-ago. And every Friday night, Yasi has dinner with her, and on this particular Friday, she asks her to teach her how to cook. She then spends the next two months learning everything her grandmother knows, while also not being sure how to come out. You all, this story had the best one liners in the collection. The beautiful writing and important messages were the perfect combination. ”You don’t apologize for who you are.” And the ending was the cutest thing I’ve ever read. All the happy years. This was such a bright shining light in this collection. I loved this with my entire heart.

A Stranger at the Bochinche by Daniel José Older – ★★★
This one had a little more difficult of a learning curve I think, just because it felt like such a fantastic, SFF world. But I still really enjoyed this one, with a Latinx main character, and I also think there was a very important discussion on how white people have stolen/taken a lot of things from people of color and try to make it their own, while also stealing credit. I also really liked how this was so very different than everything else in this anthology.

A Boy’s Duty by Sharon G. Flake – ★★★
I really enjoyed this historical story that starred a black homeless boy, who’s trying to not give up on his dreams or his love for astronomy. And even though this story has its sweet moments, it was a very heavy one, too. From just reading a book about a homeless kid, to seeing everyday racism, to learning about a side character who is grieving the worst loss in this world. This was able to evoke a lot of emotions from me. And honestly? This is the type of story you read and immediately want to go out in the world and do better.

One Voice by Melissa de la Cruz – ★★★★★
I loved this short story so very much. This story centers around a string of hate crimes that are happening on Stanford’s campus, and we get to see how it’s impacting a Filipina girl whose family was undocumented. This story talks heavily on the privilege that white and white passing people take for granted when they are doing something as simple as walking back to their dorms. How white people can use police and “authority figures” as a convenience, where people of color not only can’t, but they feel more afraid of what will happen if they speak out. And this story perfectly talks about how hard it is to reclaim your space once it has been violated and deemed unsafe. And this also even discusses how we sexualize Asian woman and how so many men fetishize them. Like I said above, I am so very white passing, but this is a book about a Filipina girl studying microbiology, what I got my degree in at UofM. Like, I knew from the first page I was going to completely love this novella the most in this collection. But as I read, I realized how I wish I could give this short story to every student and make it required reading. This was a masterpiece, and now I feel like such a fool for never reading Melissa de la Cruz before. Beautiful, important, and completely moving.

Paladin/Samurai by Gene Luen Yang – ★★
I loved how a graphic work was incorporated into this anthology, but I just didn’t completely love this one. But I did appreciate it starting out with a D&D campaign. I also think this one didn’t pack a punch like all the rest in the collection, but it’s about a Japanese boy wanting to play as a Samurai in his D&D campaign, but his DM will only allow them to be one of five classes (which is absurd!), so he is trying to get to be a Paladin. But… that’s just the DM being bad, because Paladins and Samurais are nothing alike. Just because they both use melee weapons? I’m sorry, I really wanted to love this!

Catch, Pull, Drive by Schuyler Bailar – ★★★★★
Schuyler Bailar is the first openly transgender NCAA Division I swimmer. He was first recruited in 2013 to Harvard’s Women Swimming and Diving team, but after his transition he was recruited to the men’s team. And his success is such an inspiration that I honestly was crying reading his Wiki. And just knowing this makes this story even more beautiful and powerful. This story is about a trans boy who has finally come out to his school via Facebook and is now having his first day on his school’s swim team as a boy. And with that comes a brand new locker room, and new reactions from his peers. TW/CW for bullying, hate speech, transphobic slurs, use of dead name (all of these are challenged, and none are in a positive light, but it can be hard to read). This was easily one of my favorites stories in the collection, even though an ethnicity and/or culture is never brought up, but the author is a PoC.

Super Human by Nicola Yoon – ★★★★★
This was probably the most perfect concluding story to any anthology every. Nicola Yoon just teleports me with her writing every time, and I need a full-length story to this immediately. Oh my gosh! But this is a powerful story about how no black person is safe from police brutality in America, not even superheroes. And one black girl unfolds the story, and has her eyes opened. This story is so relevant, so important, and is honestly a short masterpiece. I loved this so much, and it is such a shining star in this collection. I can’t wait for the rest of the world to fall in love with it.

Out of a possible 60 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 12 stories) this collection accumulated 51 stars (85%). But these numbers mean nothing, because Fresh Ink means more to me than any amount of math. This collection is so damn important, and I truly believe is life changing. This a five star read, and I implore you all to preorder and request at your libraries! Everyone deserves to see themselves and their experiences represented in book., and Fresh Ink is the anthology that the world needs.

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The quote above was taken from an ARC and is subject to change upon publication.

Dreadful Young Ladies and Other Stories by Kelly Barnhill

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This is a beautiful collection of eight short stories and one novella by Kelly Barnhill. And you will very quickly learn that their writing is lush, lyrical, and absolutely haunting. But sometimes the speculative fiction felt a little too speculative for my personal tastes. But if you like lyrical prose and speculative writing? You will love this collection.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Mrs. Sorensen and the Sasquatch – ★★★
Never did I ever think I would read a story about a Sasquatch wearing a fedora, but here we are. But this was a wonderful story about what it means to be happy and how everyone has a different idea of what happiness is. And how some people will live their entire lives living other’s happiness and never their own. After the death of Mrs. Sorensen’s husband, she is in search of the happiness she was ignoring while she was married. And even though her husband was a good man, he wasn’t the right man for her and she was never able to accomplish her dreams. And now she has a chance to live her life for herself and her own happiness, regardless of what a judgmental town of people think. And this entire story is told from the point of view of the town’s priest, who is also questioning his life and his happiness.

Open the Door and the Light Pours Through – ★★★★
Wow, this impacted me super hard at the end. At first, I wasn’t so sure I was going to enjoy this one, and then it turned into something so very beautiful. This story is about a solider questioning his sexuality while he is writing letters to his wife back home. This story also heavily showcases grief and trauma. But this book also heavily talks about how love is genderless, and it was able to evoke so many beautiful emotions from me.

The Dead Boy’s Last Poem – ★★★
This one was so very beautiful, but it was also so very short. And because it was so short, I feel like it didn’t pack the punch I really needed to connect with it. But it is a love letter to artists everywhere, that you will always live on through the art you create. Again, super beautiful, I just had a really hard time connecting.

Dreadful Young Ladies – ★★
This hurts my heart to say this, but this was probably my least favorite in the collection, even though it is the title story. These are four quick tales about “dreadful” young ladies, and what gives them that title. Maybe this just went over my head? Maybe there is some really gorgeous metaphor that I completely missed?

The Taxidermist’s Other Wife – ★★
I didn’t love this one either, sadly. I did like the creepy aesthetic! I mean, this is a story about a Taxidermist who is very questionable, but something just made it so that I never connected.

Elegy to Gabrielle—Patron Saint of Healers, Whores, and Righteous Thieves – ★★★★★
This was beyond words beautiful. Seeing these two women, everything they went through, everything they were forced through. Seeing the father, only get the pieces that he was given. Seeing that a woman can be everything, absolutely everything, but still have people try to make them feel like nothing. I felt like I was in this village, or on this ship, and experiencing the magic. This was so beautifully told, expertly crafted, and completely immerseful.

Notes on the Untimely Death of Ronia Drake – ★★★★
This was so intelligently crafted in little glimpses that make up such a larger story. I know I said this above, but I felt like maybe this was a little too speculative for my personal tastes, and maybe I missed a few key tie ins, but I still loved the adventure of this story coming together. But, for me, this story was about being a woman, being a mother, being a daughter, being lonely, being free, and what each of these things mean in retrospect to the others. I think this was expertly crafted.

The Insect and the Astronomer: A Love Story – ★★★
Don’t get me wrong, I’m here for all queer love stories, even between insects, but this one just really didn’t work for me. I just feel like this one was too over the top. I really loved the footnotes, because that’s just something I always personally love in books, but the story itself felt a little too thick for me to read through. I kept finding myself skimming and having to reread passages. But I do believe we all have wings.

The Unlicensed Magician – ★★★★★
This won the World Fantasy Award for long fiction in 2016, and it was so deserving. I loved this with every bone in my body. This reads like a dystopian fantasy, where in this world every quarter century magical children are born and the Minister’s people collect them and take them to the Tower where they will work until they die. And we follow Sparrow, who died before the collection. Or did she? This story switches perspective from past and present constantly, and it just makes it an even more haunting and powerful piece that expertly comes together in the end. And seeing this magical girl grow, is something I don’t even have words for. This novella completely made the collection for me.

I gave Dreadful Young Ladies 4 stars overall, because out of a possible 45 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 9 stories) this collection accumulated 31 stars (~69%). But if you love speculative fiction, and some of the most beautiful prose you will ever read, I completely recommend this collection with my whole heart.

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Buddy read with Kaycee! ❤

All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages edited by Saundra Mitchell

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This was a blessing to read. This is a historical literature short story collection, showcasing LGBTQIAP+ characters. And all of the authors that contributed to this collection are LGBTQIAP+ and that is something that I don’t even have words for. I am forever thankful that Saundra Mitchell curated this, that Harlequin published this, and that kids and teens everywhere are going to be able to pick this up and know that they are never alone and that they have never been alone, throughout history.

These stories also are set all over the world, even though the majority of them do take place in The United States. I do personally wish that we had a little more variety, but the stories themselves are super important and I feel very privileged that I was able to read them. My only other minor complaint is that I also wish that there was a pansexual character. I get no titles were used in many of these stories, but I still wish there were bigger hints and/or possibilities that would have personally made my pan heart happy.

My personal favorite was The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson. It was so beautifully written, the messages were expertly woven in, and the characters are two that I won’t forget anytime soon. Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore and Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake were super close to also being my favorite. And both of these stories are ones I will carry in my heart forever. And I truly believe, without a doubt, that these three short stories are worth the entire price of this anthology alone!

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★

“I wanted them to know that I was my abuela’s granddaughter, that carried the blood of poison girls.”

1870 Mexico – I wish every anthology that I will ever read for the rest of my life started with a story by Anna-Marie McLemore. The beauty, the power, the magic in her words. It is something I can’t find words for, but it makes me feel everything. Absolutely everything. This story centers around an ownvoices Latinx main character, who is trying to get her trans lover out of jail. This story discusses trans issues and does it so damn well, and even though I am cis, I was still blown away at what this author was able to accomplish with this masterpiece of a short story. And the w/w romance in this is so awe-inspiring and just damn heartwarming. I loved it. And I loved this so very much. There is also so much beautiful magical realism in this, that deals with poison, and it has me super hyped to read more about it in Blanca y Roja this fall!

The Sweet Trade by Natalie C. Parker – ★★★

“Clara Elizabeth Byrd had been married twice by the age of sixteen and she had decided she had no taste for it.”

1717 USA, Virginia – I enjoyed this one, I just didn’t love this one. Clara is a runaway bride, who is sailing away for a getaway, when she comes across another girl that is running from the same future that neither one of them envision for themselves. Obviously a really cute w/w relationship blooms, and both girls have hopes and dreams of ruling the seas together as pirate queens disguised as kings. And this makes me excited to read this author’s LGBTQIAP+ pirate story, Seafire, this summer!

And They Don’t Kiss At the End by Nilah Magruder – ★★★★

“I like what I like and I don’t like what I don’t. I have nothing to apologize for.”

1976 USA, Maryland – This was so smartly created for this anthology. From the title, to Pride & Prejudice, to skating, to the music, to the amazing rep; this was nothing but a joy to read. This was a gift sent from above. This story features an ownvoices black main character, who is trying to figure out her sexual orientation, but she knows she’s on the ace spectrum. Hell, it’s hard enough for aro and ace kids to figure out their sexual ID even in 2018, and in the 70s there isn’t even a name for it. But this was the sweetest story, that even made me shed a few tears. Also, there was the Filipino boy in this who was a confirmed cinnamon roll. But, please, I want a full-length story of Dee!

Burnt Umber by Mackenzi Lee – ★★★★

“I am the boy most accomplished at not becoming distracted by the first naked woman we draw. Which is something, I suppose.”

1638 Netherlands, Amsterdam – Okay, this one was actually super funny. I was having a dang giggle while reading this one. And I felt like the main character talked a lot like I would in his situation, and, Lord, help me, I loved it. This one stars a boy in a prestigious painting class and, from the quote above, you can probably tell what they’re painting next. There is minor bullying in this, and an important discussion on how dangerous coming out was back then (and still can be). But the story really gets started when the main characters crush is the next subject they are about to draw.

The Dresser & The Chambermaid by Robin Talley – ★★★

“Susanna was accustomed to creeping about the palace in the dark.”

1726 England, London, Kensington Palace – This wasn’t my favorite story in the anthology, but I loved the setting so much. At this point, I think Robin Talley is the queen of atmosphere, and she proves it again in this short story. This is about two girls who are both servants to a very demanding young princess. One has lived her entire life in the castle, and the other is brand new and needs the assistance of the other to know how the princess likes her hair. This is a cute w/w romance, and I’d love to read more. Also, this was super sex positive, and I always appreciate that!

New Year by Malinda Lo – ★★★★

“Tommy Andrews, the male impersonator, brings something different in nightclub entertainment…”

1955 USA, California, San Francisco– This is a story about a (ownvoices) Chinese-American girl discovering who she is, and what her sexuality is, growing up in Chinatown. It also happens to be the Chinese New Year, and someone catches her eye when they walk into her friend’s restaurant. And I need this full story now! Ahhh, especially with that ending! But this was a great read, even though it was romance free, and it discussed so many important topics about immigration, and deportation, and how badly we treat immigrants, even in 2018. It also was a very feminist and empowering short story, and I loved the author’s note at the end of this one. I desperately need to read more by Malinda Lo.

Molly’s Lips by Dahlia Adler – ★★

“She’ll never love me like she loves a man she’ll never meet.”

1994 USA, Washington, Seattle – This had everything that I should have loved. I love everything 90s, especially grunge music, and the entire aesthetic just seemed like something I’d enjoy, as morbid as that probably sounds. This is a story about two girls grieving the death of Kurt Cobain, in the place where grunge music was born. And I loved the writing style, I just thought the story left a lot to be desired. I love me a good w/w best friends to lovers story, and I love the message that music truly has healing powers, but this one was just a bit boring for me. Which kind of breaks my heart, because I do really love Nirvana.

The Coven by Kate Scelsa – ★★

“It was Gertrude Stein who first introduced us to the coven.”

1920s France, Paris – This is about a girl grieving the loss of her brother and dealing with the depression that no doctor is able to diagnose. She then finds a coven with her girlfriend, that helps young girls like her. And I guess the w/w romance was cute, but this one just read so very boring for me personally.

Every Shade of Red by Elliot Wake – ★★★★★

“If I must lie to the world to be true to my heart, then I’ll lie. I’ll cheat, I’ll steal and I’ll do it with a smile. Love is the only higher power I answer to, and my love is no less for being chaste.”

1300s England | – I thought this was going to be good, but it ended up being perfect. This is an awesome Robin Hood retelling. And Robin in this story is a trans boy, who is in love with our main protagonist, who ran away from a father that didn’t accept him. And this m/m romance had me swooning. Also, our main protagonist is hearing impaired and seeing him sign on page was something so magical to me. And the ending? I still feel absolutely gutted. But the heart of this story is about love; the love we have for others, but also the love that we must find in accepting ourselves for who we are. This was so brilliantly done and was honestly perfection in every way, and I loved it more than any combination of words I can come up with.

Willows by Scott Tracey – ★★

“That is the secret to survival. Teach fear to those who taught you to be afraid.”

1732 USA, Massachusetts | – This just didn’t work for me in the slightest. Maybe it was me and my reading comprehension, but this felt so incohesive to me and was super hard to follow. But it had witches in it? And being scared because of the way witches were dealt with back in the 1700s Massachusetts. But it was sort of like an exploration of a person that has been different people in different lives, while exploring gender, too. And in the end, they are in a relationship with a guy, and they run away together. But this just was so not for me in any way.

The Girl with the Blue Lantern by Tess Sharpe – ★★★★★

“And I am yours […] always.”

1839 USA, Northern California | – This was everything I wanted. This was whimsical, this was lyrical, and this was perfect. I would buy and read anything, and everything set in this world, and in those woods. Also, this is one of the few stories in the anthology that felt like a full story. This was beyond words good, and I had full body goosebumps at the very end of the story. This story centers around a young girl, with an abusive father, that lives in a town that fears going into the woods. Well, one day, after her dog escapes into said woods, the girl ventures in to find him and meets a girl who is not human (and there is no confirmation, but I want to yell at you all “FAE GIRL!”) And I was so damn invested in this tale. And I was so into the friendship, turned into something more between these very different girls, who both bond over feeling alone. This is easily one of my favorites in this entire collection.

The Secret Life of a Teenage Boy by Alex Sanchez – ★★★★

“…Ready to tell Mom and Dad the thing they already know.”

1969 USA, Virginia | – This is about a boy who loves his family dearly but doesn’t know how to let them know that he is not straight. Him and his sister are really close, which I love, because my brother has always and will always be my best friend. And one day, a car breaks down outside their home, and our main character spends time with the young driver, while waiting for someone to repair the vehicle. Okay, I really liked this one, because even though this was set twenty years before I was born, I still remember a lot of the homophobia that went on in this story. Like, growing up, boys that only had one ear pierced were always considered gay, which makes me feel gross even to type. And just seeing this boy finally seeing someone that is happy and confident with their sexuality, and wanting to run away and be that too? That evoked some emotion from me. And this just felt like such accurate representation of all the thoughts you have when you’re young and discovering your sexuality (at least for me, personally) and I really enjoyed this one.

Walking After Midnight by Kody Keplinger – ★★★

“I’m never gonna see the world or do anything people will remember.”

1952 USA, New York | – This one was super adorable, I just didn’t fall in love with it the same way I did some of the other stories in this collection. This is about an actress, that is starting to feel past her prime, and she misses her train connection in a small town. A girl who is closing up a nearby diner see’s the girl and offers her somewhere to stay. This is a cute story about knowing your worth, and knowing what you want from life, and not letting anyone tell you differently. Also, I believe the main character could possibly be on the ace spectrum, so that’s awesome too! But I wish we could have seen both of these characters a year from when they first met.

The End of the World As We Know It by Sara Farizan – ★★★★★

“It’s kind of shitty to think that on the eve of the apocalypse, I’m wasting my last hours watching Carson Daly in Times Square awkwardly burgeoning pop star Mandy Moore the most banal of questions.”

1999 USA, Massachusetts, Boston | – You all, this one made me feel so… old… but so seen. Holy shit, so seen. Okay, I was a lot younger than the main protagonist in 1999, but I remember it. I was still in elementary school, but everyone was freaking out and I remember my parents being freaked out about the banks and them stocking up on bottled water and things like that! Also, me and my friends thought we were the absolute coolest, and we would always rush home after school to watch TRL, because we had to know if Blink 182 would actually beat Britney or Christina to number 1 that day. Also, this story mentions Aaliyah, who me and my best friend were obsessed with. Like, so obsessed with that she made it her daughter’s middle name when she was born a few years ago. And I also remember Matthew Shepard and what happened to him, and it being one of the first tragedies I actually remember happening. And it shook me, even as a little kid, to my very core. This is about a girl who is a senior in high school, and she is home on New Year’s Eve with her parents. Well, until her best friend who she hasn’t spoken to recently comes over. And a cute w/w romance brews. TL;DR – I’m giving this five stars because 1.) I loved it with my whole heart, but 2.) this was my very early adolescence, and around the time I started to realize that I wasn’t straight, so this story just really spoke to me.

Three Witches by Tessa Gratton – ★★★★★

“The ease with which s beautiful girl can seduce Violante has been the core of her troubles all her life.”

1519 Spain, Burgos, Castile | – Tessa Gratton is such a talented writer, and when I read her writing it feels truly like I’m reading art. This story is a bit of a darker one, because it’s about a girl in conversion therapy that is being administered by the Catholic church. And we get to see a relationship with our main character, Violante, and one of the nuns. This was powerful, this was haunting, and it truly is something I won’t be able to get out of my head. And I will always choose love, and I hope you all do too.

The Inferno & the Butterfly by Shaun David Hutchinson – ★★★★★

“And it was in that moment that I understood what it meant to be loved.”

1839 London | – The last sentence of this story. God, I’m still weeping. This was such a masterpiece. I loved this with the sum of my entire being. This was the first thing I’ve ever read by Shaun David Hutchinson, and I promise it won’t be the last. This is a short story about two rivaling magician assistances, both learning to live with the pain from their pasts. Their paths cross, and they start to see that life doesn’t have to be all pain, and that everyone is worthy of love. I want more. No, I need more. I feel so in love with this world, this magic, and these two boys who completely captivated me and stole my heart. This was my favorite in the entire collection. This story alone makes the entire collection worth the purchase.

Healing Rosa by Tehlor Kay Mejia – ★★★★★

“Rose was a summer girl, and I was a winter girl, but that fall we made magic.”

1933 USA, New Mexico | – This one was very powerful! This is an ownvoices latinx short story about a girl, whose grandmother was believed to be a bruja, and another girl who she can’t help but show her feelings for, regardless of what the girl’s father thinks, and regardless of what the demon inside her feels. And the magical realism in this was a blessing to my eyes and my soul. Beautiful, so beautiful. And this just was so unapologetically queer, and it just raised me up, and made me feel so happy, and reminded me to never feel shame. God, I just loved this one so much. And these two girls were my favorite couple in the entire anthology.

Overall, I loved this. And representation always matters, but it especially matters to kids that feel alone and feel like what they are feeling, or who they are, is wrong. LGBTQIAP+ isn’t a trend, or a theme, and it sure and the hell isn’t anything new. And no matter how much history books want to pretend we didn’t exist back then, they will always be wrong. I gave All Out four stars overall, because out of a possible 85 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 17 stories) this collection accumulated 66 stars (~77%).

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This is the group read for the biannual Prideathon that ran from April 2nd to April 8th! ❤🌈

Toil & Trouble: 15 Tales of Women & Witchcraft edited by Tess Sharpe & Jessica Spotswood

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ARC provided by HarperCollins in exchange for an honest review.

Friends, when I first heard about this anthology staring witches, I almost sold my soul for it. Instead I sent a begging request to Harlequin, but I would have tried any amount of magic to get my hands on this. And with good reason, because this was nothing short of amazing.

I know this doesn’t come out until late August, a day after my birthday to be exact, but something about this ARC just compelled me to read it this early. And I mean it, I couldn’t put this down. And when I did, each night I found myself being like, “just one story before bed!” and then I’d back to back read three or four, staying up way too late. I loved this, and I truly believe that it is nothing short of magical.

I think three stories really stood out for me, but there is honestly so much to love here. But my favorite was easily Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May. It meant so much to me that I instantly reread it, with just as many tears in my eyes. It was powerful, and important, and is going to change so many lives. I feel so blessed to have read it, and I’ll carry it with me forever. Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore was also a masterpiece, and one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read in my entire life. And The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma also left me speechless from all the emotions it was able to evoke from me. I promise you, there are so many good stories in this anthology, but these three were my personal favorites.

I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

1. Starsong by Tehlor Kay Mejia – ★★★★

“People find me when they need to see the beauty they feel.”

This was so adorable. This is an ownvoices Latinx story about a sixteen-year-old girl, who loves painting, and make up, and reading charts and horoscopes for people. She has a very large social media presence, and people pay her to show them the things that they are unable to see. But this beautiful bruja is still living with the consequences of one bad decision she made a year ago. TW: drug use. Luna feels lonely, since her journey of changing her life, but that changes one night when a cute girl messages her. Also, I loved seeing Luna question if the girl she was talking to was queer or not. Like, so relatable, I swear. The story turns into two cute girls texting about science vs. magic, and I need so much more. I loved this. Also, this talks briefly about a polya relationship too that hires Luna, and give me all the polya rep and support and normalization!

2. Afterbirth by Andrea Cremer – ★★★

“In the eyes of the village, my truths cannot be suffered to live.”

I really enjoyed this little tale, set in 1600s New England during the witch trials. We are shown a very difficult childbirth scene (TW: complications during childbirth) that brings suspicion to the woman that delivered the child. Throw in mysterious spell books, a trial that a woman has no possibility of winning, and maybe even the Devil himself, and we have a very fun and spooky witch story that was perfect for this anthology.

3. The Heart in Her Hands by Tess Sharpe – ★★★

“He can’t fill the empty space in her because there are none. There is no emptiness in a devoted heart.”

Okay, first off, this is a tea lovers dream of a short story. I was filled with so much happiness just by all the tea descriptions in this book. Next, this was a wonderful story about soulmates and who you choose to love is the one you should be with. This is also queer and beautiful. And it really talks about the expectations your family can put, and sometimes force, on you. But how becoming who you want to be, and who you want to be it with, is more important than anything. This was adorable. TW: loss of a parent.

4. Death in the Sawtooths by Lindsay Smith – ★★★★

“A person can tell you anything, but bones—those tell the truth.”

Witches, warlocks, and wizards; this one had the whole magical hierarchy set in this town. Our main character is heavily judged because her patron is the Lady of Slumber, and she deals with the thing everyone fears most: death. So, this town carries some very heavy prejudices. But it ends up having a beautiful message about how everyone has a choice, and a person should only be judged on the actions they choose to perform. But sadly, people continue to stereotype off their prejudices. Even when the person they ostracize the most is the only one that can help them. I was hoping this was going to turn F/F, but it was still a nice relationship from bully to friend. TW: bullying, death, and prepping dead bodies.

5. The Truth About Queenie by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★★

“I do it for me, because if I don’t accept all the parts of myself, how can I be who I really am?”

This story was so damn good, and immersed me so damn hard, that I forget I was reading a short story in a witch anthology and was shocked when the witch aspect came into play. Yeah, this one was honestly perfection. This short story had everything, and it was nothing short of a delight to read. And the rep? This is an ownvoices story, and I believe all the characters we are introduced to are African American. And issues are brought up seamlessly, like how being black in a white neighborhood is hard enough, on top of also being a witch. The main character has panic attacks, is dealing with a loss of a friend, and is constantly worried about another loved one’s health. Also, the family members in this story and the strong emphasis on family was beautiful. And how much it means to have representation in something you’re passionate about. And it even talks about what it is like to be friends with someone famous, and how weird it is, because you knew them when they weren’t famous. And I’ve only told a few close friends about this, but this is actually something super near and dear to my heart, and I am not sure I’ve ever read that perspective in a book before. But mostly, this book is about owning who you are, letting people feel the weight of who you are, but making your own choices, and believing in yourself, and only letting yourself and your actions define you. Friends, get your hands on this short story. I promise, it’s worth the price of this anthology alone.

6. The Moonapple Menagerie by Shveta Thakrar – ★★

“Would you trade your friends for your deepest heart’s desire?”

This one was still fun to read, I just didn’t love it. It is about a coven of teenagers that are putting on a play and they all have different roles in the production. Oh, and they can all shift into different animals! The cast is all super diverse too, which I loved, and our main character, Shalini, is in charge of creating the perfect ending for the play. Yet, she feels like she needs a little help, so she asks a churel (demon) to help her, but obviously they are not willing to do it for free! But this is truly a story about friendship, and how being honest with the ones you love is always important. Also, don’t make deals with demons.

7. The Legend of Stone Mary by Robin Talley – ★★★★

“Everybody for miles around used to remember the story of Mary Keegan’s curse, but you wouldn’t know it now.”

You all, this one was spooky as heck to read! This would make the perfect Halloween read. Seriously, it has such a creepy atmosphere, setting, and even writing style. Robin Talley is talented. Also, this features a bit of F/F romance which you all know I’m always looking for. But this is a short story about a girl who has a very important lineage. And this is also a story about how important it is to not forget and repeat history, especially when a very powerful witch is still after revenge. TW: death and bullying.

8. The One Who Stayed by Nova Ren Suma – ★★★★★

“We used to be little, and soft. We used to say yes before we even heard the entire question. We used to think we had no recourse for making someone’s heart ache like ours have ached, for resetting the balance in the universe, for striving for the thing we’re not supposed to want but we still do want: revenge.”

First off, major TW for sexual assault, molestation, and rape. The dread you feel while reading this book, knowing what is going to happen, is something I don’t even have words for. But this story was perfection. It was powerful, and feminist, and evoked every emotion from me. Also, it has major vibes of The Craft, and you all know I’m always here for that. Also, I could have highlighted this entire story. This story will be so much better if you go into it blind, but I will say that it is about a group of girls in the woods, waiting to meet their newest member. And Nova Ren Suma just made my auto-buy list.

9. Divine Are the Stars by Zoraida Córdova – ★★★★

“…But memories make things grander and more beautiful when you want to think fondly on them.”

This was such a beautiful, ownvoices, Latnix, magical realism story that I want so much more of. Zoraida always completely blows me away with her lyrical writing, and this was no exception. This is a story about a girl named Marimar, who goes back to Colorado because her grandmother is dying. And even though it at first feels like this is a story about how death follows her, it’s such a beautifully gripping tale about family, and all the messy parts of family that people don’t like to put on display. And how family can truly do some horrible things, but it’s always important to know yourself, where you came from, and know what you need to be.

10. Daughters of Baba Yaga by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★

“The moon is full, and even the stars are scared of me.”

This is obviously a twist on the tale of Baba Yaga, which surrounds three girls. And this one is filled with so much good. It’s basically about three witches, who want different things to change. TW: bullying and a bit graphic animal dissecting scene. This book stars a butcher’s daughter, so it is a little descriptive on animal organs and cuts and things of that nature, so use caution. But this has major The Craft vibes, too! Another other character was from Jewish descent, and it was amazing to see and read. And really damn important. There is such a good discussion around trying to “fit in” and be more “American” because you are embarrassed by what you are. This story even briefly talks about CCCP and the image of the hammer/sickle. There is a lot going on in this story, a lot, and maybe that’s why I didn’t love it as much? Or maybe I was just looking for more witchcraft? I don’t know, but I still think it’s powerful, and beautiful, and a wonderful addition to this collection. And I’ll always be here for girls unapologetically loving themselves and their culture.

11. The Well Witch by Kate Hart – ★★

“But men were the most unpredictable animals, and those that found Elsa’s oasis were usually lost both in geography and life…”

Okay, so I was completely enthralled and totally captivated by this story. It is set in 1875 Texas, and stars a girl who lives all by herself in a very harsh desert environment. Her mother is dead, and her father has been away for three years, so she has lived by herself for quite some time. That is, until three men show up looking for shelter. Again, I really enjoyed the first half of this, and was so excited to see where it would go. Sadly, I hated where it went. I completely hated this ending, and the events that took place leading up to it. TW: racism and animal cruelty and death.

12. Beware of Girls with Crooked Mouths by Jessica Spotswood – ★★★★★

“But she would trade it all to be able to remember her little sister’s smile.”

This was such a good story! Completely different than anything else in this collection, and I loved it. This is a story about three sisters who are forced to live their life devoted to a prophecy that happens every generation. Jo has an affinity with prophecies, Elle has a specialty for poison, and Georgie has a way with fire. Yet, the first thing we see in this tale is a prophecy for the future that Jo sees, and soon becomes obsessed with making it a reality. This totally does have Three Dark Crowns vibes, because only one of these girls are meant to live. Yet, this is truly a story about sisterhood, and how the choices we make will always be something we are held accountable for. And this ending gutted me. Seriously, please give me this full-length novel. I’m not above begging.

13. Love Spell by Anna-Marie McLemore – ★★★★★

“I said my prayers to God, who I believed still wanted me, even if the men who took up his name on Earth never would.”

Everyone, I’m crying while writing my mini-review for this one. Perfection. A masterpiece. Something worth more than all the stars. This is one of the most beautiful and powerful short stories I’ve ever read. Ever. In all my life. I’m going to preorder this collection just for this story alone. Nothing I’m going to say is going to do this story justice, but this is a tale about a bruja who comes to live with her tía, because they both share the magic of curing other people’s heartbreak. This is ownvoices Latinx fiction, that stars a boy who has devoted his life to God and the Catholic church, and a girl who the town thinks is a witch that doesn’t even deserve communion. And I promise you, it’s one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever read. Also, the boy is trans and it just made the story even more perfect. This is about community, and prejudices, and family, and knowing your worth, and knowing when love is worth it.

14. The Gherin Girls by Emery Lord – ★★★★★

“She’ll tell her daughters someday: If you don’t feel safe enough to yell back, you’re not safe enough. My babies, that is not love.”

This was so powerful and so empowering. This is a such an amazing portrayal of sisterhood and unconditional love, and it stars three girls with very unique and different powers, but this is a story about abuse. TW: talk of abuse, but nothing too detailed or graphic. But this wonderfully lays out the cycle of abuse, and how easy it is to not realize you are in an abusive relationship. It talks about how your abuser will always want to isolate you, will make up excuses, will blame you, will gaslight you, and how they will slowly and seamlessly weave this into something that feels normal. This is an important short story, and I now want to buy everything Emery Lord has ever created. Also, there is a super cute F/F romance in here. And extra also, one of the three sisters are stated to be a lesbian, but I think it’s pretty implied that another sister is pan, but she should be bi, and that’s awesome too! This was amazing, and important, and easily worth more than five stars.

The Only Way Back by Tristina Wright – N/A

Okay, so this story will not be in the finished copy of this book in light of the sexual assault allegations against the author. You will only see this story in the printed ARC version. (Thank you so much to the editors, Harlequin, and anyone else that had a hand in this and by proving that they are listening and want to take steps to change the industry and make it a safer place.)

15. Why They Watch Us Burn by Elizabeth May – ★★★★★

“Here’s how to fulfill a prophecy: you are a woman, you speak the truth, and the world makes you into a liar.”

I finished this one weeping and sobbing. I immediately reread it, aloud, to a loved one. Immediately. It was that important to me. And the second time around, I was still crying. Ugly crying. Truthful crying. I cried for every woman out there, whose voice has been silenced. Whose voice will continue to be silenced until things change. This is about a girl who is sent to work in a forest, lumber, labor camp, because of her sinful ways. There, she is one of thirteen girls, all from different walks of life, but all of them have sinned for just being a woman, therefore a witch. This is about found family, and sisterhood, and reclaiming your identity, and gaining a voice. This was so beautifully structured, and so beautifully written. And it has such great representation, from different races, to a beautiful F/F story, to a trans character, this was just exceptionally crafted. This story should be required reading. I don’t see how anyone who reads this anthology’s life isn’t going to be changed just from reading this short story. And the editors were genius for making it the closing story. This short story is probably the best thing I’ve read all year. I am in awe, I am speechless, but I’m begging you to read this short story. This was feministic perfection. TW: implied rape, but nothing too graphic or visual. This story meant so much to me, and impacted me so profoundly, I’m going to find a way to incorporate it in my best reads of 2018 come December.

I gave Toil & Trouble four stars overall, because out of a possible 75 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 15 stories) this collection accumulated 59 stars (~78%). But honestly? This feels like it deserves a higher percentage. This was amazing, and I completely recommend it. And I don’t say this lightly: Elizabeth May’s story honestly changed my life. It’s maybe the best short story I’ve ever read. Please pick this up come August!

[Edit: May 5th, 2018] I can’t stop thinking about this anthology! So, screw that percent rating I did above! This deserves five stars! All the stars!

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The quotes above were taken from an ARC and are subject to change upon publication.

Art of War: Anthology for Charity edited by Petros Triantafyllou

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ARC provided by my beautiful future wife, Mary, in exchange for an honest review!

This anthology holds 40 short stories by some really amazing high fantasy authors. And on top of this being a really impressive writing group, all proceeds for this book will go to Médecins Sans Frontières/Doctors Without Borders! MSF is an international humanitarian non-governmental organization that is known for their help in war-torn regions and developing countries affected by endemic diseases. I couldn’t help but preorder, even though I was given an ARC, and I hope you do the same if you are able to! More information about this amazing charity here!

I’m giving this collection five stars overall. From Greek Gods to newly summoned demons. From healers on the backlines to the warriors on the frontlines. From Spider Gods to Magpie Kings. Not only do I love some of these authors and their stories, I think this collection will make many fantasy readers very happy. Plus, the cause and charity for this anthology are both so damn important and for those two things alone this anthology deserves five stars. Thank you so much for putting this together, Petros. From my entire heart and soul, thank you.

But, whenever I review anthologies I review every story. So, I’m going to break down each short story with my thoughts, opinions, and individual star rating!

The Breaking of the Sky by Ed McDonald – ★★
I really enjoyed Blackwing when I read it last year, so it was really nice being back in this world. Well, maybe “nice” isn’t the word I’d use, since the people in this world are having a pretty hard time to say the least. War is coming, and we follow a man and his companions who have been transporting a mysterious box. I just really disliked the constant commentary, within this very short story, about how one of main character’s companions did terrible things to dogs. Also, the main character kind of has a gross outlook on women in general. Not the strongest start for this anthology, but overall, I do enjoy this world and it made me excited to read Ravencry this year!

The Last Arrow by Mitchell Hogan – ★★
This short is about a farmer that was drafted into a squad of archers, who are protecting a wall from sorcerers. They have been on duty for fifty-three days, living in terrible conditions, barely being fed, and basically being treated awful. This story is sad, and depressing, yet leaves you rather invested to see where it is going. I didn’t love this one, but it was intense to read.

Dear Menelaus by Laura M. Hughes – ★★★★★
Holy moly, this one was so damn perfect! Absolutely glorious! This is a letter that a woman is writing to her husband, which you can probably guess from the title, deals heavily with Greek heroes. But this is such an amazing feministic approach, and I loved every single perfectly contrasted and powerful sentence. And if you know who Menelaus’ wife was, well, the story will only be even that much more enjoyable. I loved this with my whole heart.

Warborn by C.T. Phipps – ★★
This one is about a demon who wakes up inside a summoning circle, in front of a nineteen-year-old girl who desperately needs to kill her parents. And apparently, in this world, the only way to give payment for help after summoning is your soul, blood, or sex. And, of course the demon picks sex. We also get to see that the demon wasn’t the best human when he was one. I don’t know, this had some decent twists and turns, but it mostly left me with a bad taste in my mouth.

This War of Ours by Timandra Whitecastle – ★★★★★
Wow, I loved this more than words. Beautiful, heart wrenching, powerful, perfection. And…. KOBOLDS! And magic, and family, and war, and stealthy missions, and required silence. Like, is this a full-length series? A story set in this world? Give me it all. This was wonderful. I loved Sparrow and bug and I need so much more.

The Greatest Battle by John Gwynne – N/A
It is a horrible strike against my Adult Fantasy reviewing status to say that I’ve never read John Gwynne’s work! I very much hope to rectify this in 2018, but as it stands I have not yet completed Malice, therefore Petrik will kill me if I spoiled myself with this one. But please go check out his review</a > of this collection, where he raves about this short story!

Shadows in the Mist by Sue Tingey – ★★
This had a huge horror vibe to it, which isn’t really my cup of tea. It was a little gratuitous with the gore and descriptions, which is also something I’m not a huge fan of. Also, this has a very eerie vibe, but the overall story just felt kind of pointless, and it left a lot to be desired.

The Art: Post War by RJ Barker – ★★★
The only ARC of 2017 that I requested and didn’t get to was Age of Assassins</i >, and now I feel even worse! This was so intriguing, and dark, and funny, and I loved it. It is also told in second person, and just felt so unique among the other stories in this collection. I really enjoyed reading this, and I can’t wait to finally read more by RJ Barker.

The Fox and the Bowman by Sebastien de Castell – ★★★★★
Sebastien is not only the master of writing, he is also the master of plotting, and this short story is so expertly crafted. This is a story about revenge, and how all-consuming it can be. This is a story about how one’s life can change dramatically over the smallest of choices. This is about family, and what we are willing to do to keep our loved ones safe. And honestly? This is such a fun story about magic and perspective. I loved it. Masterpiece just like everything else Sebastien writes.

Arrow’s Wrath by Charles F. Bond – ★★★
This is another story of revenge involving an archer, and this was actually able to evoke a lot of emotions from me. I will say that this got very graphic with the violence during the revenge mission, where the description felt so damn real. But this is about a group of five men on a couple different missions in the name of vengeance, but I just felt like too much was packed into this short story, even though I did enjoy reading it.

Hard Lessons by Michael R. Miller – ★★★★
I read and loved The Reborn King in 2017, so I was so excited to see that his short story was set in the same world! And good lord, my entire body got goosebumps when I read Darnuir’s name. I loved this so much, and it was nothing short of amazing to be back in this world.

A Battle for Elucame: Leah by R.B. Watkinson – ★
This is a story of a young girl, who is currently a slave, and has made it her mission to kill one of the priests where she is being held, because he did something terrible to her once before. The priests are terrible people, and there are a lot of hints of them being rapists, on top of them being general abusers, and this just felt bad to read. It didn’t feel dark or emotional, it felt forced and for shock value, and it wasn’t fun to read.

The Revolution Changed Everyone by D. Thourson Palmer – ★
This is about a healer that is hiding their past, when a person is being treated for very bad wounds that must have come from a large animal in this jungle or something else. This just felt too obvious for me, so the twist wasn’t impactful in the slightest. But I can totally see others enjoying this one more than I did.

Misplaced Heroism by Andrew Rowe – ★★★★★
Oh my gosh, I was so happy when this story started out in our present-day time, and the main protagonist is just browsing Reddit. This was such a much-needed change up in setting, and I loved it. Even though he does get whisked away to another world rather quickly, so that he can defeat a demon king and his army! This felt like I fell into a MMORPG, or a well-along D&D campaign, with all the amazing strategizing. This was so funny, and surprising, and just freakin’ wonderful in every aspect! I loved this story, completely and whole heartedly.

Violet by Mazarkis Williams – ★★
This is a story about a young girl whose parents shelter a traveler, but once the traveler leaves the young girl, she feels like he has taken a part of her with him. Therefore, she sells things she shouldn’t, and goes places she shouldn’t, and probably ruins her life looking for him, while losing things that meant a lot to her. This was well written, I just never enjoyed the actual story.

The Two Faces of War by Rob J. Hayes – ★★★
This story for sure shows us the terrible side of war, and seeing a healer treat the wounds of the soldiers. Missing arrowheads, spider infestation, it is all here, even if it’s not the most pleasant thing to read. Yet, we also get to see the warrior’s side of war. But both sides make us question: is it really worth it? This wasn’t my favorite story in the collection, but it did merge and move very smoothly and was an enjoyable read.

Grannit by JP Ashman – ★★★
This is exactly the type of enjoyable story I was looking for within this collection. Short and sweet and about a wealthy knight and young boy going to war and the writing made for a really easy but enjoyable story. I for sure want to check out more from this author now.

Asalantir Forever by Steven Poore – ★★★
This story centers around a crazy and bloody little battle that’s going down. I feel like this might even deserve more than three stars, because this is the first story in the collection that has left me feeling satisfied with a battle. Also, I became very attached to Jin and her Pride. This story also makes me really want to look into the rest of the author’s backlist.

Tower of the Last by Steven Kelliher – ★★★
I read Valley of Embers by this author last year, and I really enjoyed it and his writing style! And this mini tale was no different. This is a short story that surrounds a boy, fighting his way up a tower. And when he finally ascends, he is in for quite the surprise. This is tale filled with fables, mystery, and magic, and I need more.

The Waving of the Flag by Thomas R. Gaskin – ★★★★★
This story has a beautiful juxtaposition of war. We get to see present day, upon a great defeat, and constant flashbacks from four years ago, when our main character is enlisting. Wars are won, and wars are lost, even though it is hard to see when you are on the winning side, but regardless of winning or losing, there is always a price to pay. War costs something every single time, on every single side. I was actually very emotional while reading this one, and had tears streaming down my face most the time. I feel like I almost had a cathartic experience upon finishing. War takes so much, and it will always take so much. In fantasy, or in our world in 2018. This one is truly beautifully crafted and I will carry this story in my heart for a long time.

The Art of War by Brian Staveley – ★★★★★
This was moving, intense, equal parts heart wrenching and heartwarming, this was outstanding. And as someone who loves Brian Staveley’s Chronicle of the Unhewn Throne, this was also a damn joy to read. In this story we get to see a man struggle, or have success, with the god of war living inside him. But if you’re a fan of the series, seeing General Dakesh and his life was a treat above any others. Again, I know I’m biased because I love this world and series so much, but that ending was so perfect and meant so much to me. Perfection. A masterpiece. My eyes, heart, and soul, feel so blessed. This was my personal favorite in this entire collection.

Hero of the Day by Nathan T. Boyce – ★★
This story stars a young man determined to prove his bloodline, after the death of his mother. This tale for sure centers around a theme of who gets to be the heroes in the story, regardless of the actions that we don’t normally get to see. And I really appreciated that this was a different and very grey tale, but I just didn’t love this one, despite its uniqueness.

Sacred Semantics by Nicholas Eames – ★★★★★
Like, I do not want to be picturing different kinds of spiders, people warring with one another, shooting mandible guns, being in spider tanks. Seriously, this was one of the most frightening things I’ve ever read in my entire life. But this was also so smart, so unique, and bloody brilliant. Nicholas Eames humor seeps through onto every page, and only he could make me laugh, while also being terrified at these spider worshipers. Also, this story is super powerful, and holds a very important discussion about war and the things all creatures are willing to do in the name of it. And the ending was beyond words perfect.

The War God’s Axe by Anne Nicholls – ★★
This one was a pretty good story about a misfit rising up, but this story uses the world cr*pple to describe the main character, who is the only one with the information to save the city from war. I know many people will say “its because of the time and because it’s fantasy, and someone not so great said it!” but no, its ableist and hurtful to a lot of people. It sadly really hurt the story for me, regardless of the ending.

The Feather and the Paw by Benedict Patrick – ★★★★
This was such a good story about a world where the animals of the forest had the ability to speak, and they just found out about humans and a ruling king that has appeared. And besides all of this, a Magpie King has also appeared to cause the Lionfolk some trouble. This felt like a dark fairytale, and it was so different than anything else in this collection. I really, really enjoyed this one and I’m looking forward to reading more from this author in the future.

Until the Light has Faded by Graham Austin-King – ★★★
You all know I’m going to be a little biased, because this story involved a fae army. Even if our main characters are fleeing said fae army! I just feel like this needed to be a part of a longer story, or a bigger world, and maybe it is, but it just felt not enough for a short story collection. Yet, I still enjoyed it!

Under the Queen’s Throne by Ed Greenwood – ★★
Oh my gosh, I feel so bad, because I wish this one was more separated from Benedict Patrick’s story, since they both have the animal kingdom fairytale feel, but I just didn’t like this one as much. Especially because of the shift in story. Again, I really wish these two stories weren’t so close together in this anthology.

Good Steel by Zachary Barnes – ★★★
This was so unique, and I really enjoyed it. We get to see a piece of steel “being born” and made into a weapon fit for war. Again, I’ve never read anything like this before, and it really shined and stood out from the rest of the short stories in this anthology. Very well done.

The Cost of Power by Ulff Lehmann – ★★★
This is a story about a man desperately wanting to save his people. This is a story about how we expect people to lay down their lives to protect their rulers, but the rules could care less about them being fed and cared for. There is a big discussion on the value of a human life, and overall this was just a really heartwarming story that I really enjoyed reading. But… I want more.

The Undying Lands by Michael R. Fletcher’s Doppels – ★★★★★
I loved this one. This stars a girl, that killed a man in a tavern for touching her inappropriately, but the man turned out to be someone important. So, now she’s waiting to decide her fate in a coliseum. If you kill ten people, you are free to go, but sadly the opponent she is up against has just killed nine. If he kills her, he is a free man. Also, the dead walk among the living in this world, and it just adds an additional cool layer. I loved this, I was instantly captivated and immersed in this, and I want more.

The Fall of Tereen by Anna Smith-Spark – ★
I very much didn’t get along with this author’s writing style, therefore I very much feel like it hindered my experience. It reminds me of modern day poetry, which I also find myself not able to get into. So, take this mini review with a grain of salt, but I really didn’t enjoy this one.

Valkyrie Rain by Dyrk Ashton – ★★★★★
Okay, this one was awesome! Give me all the Norse mythology! This stars Pruor, Valkyrie of Asgard, daughter of goddess Sif and god Thor, descendant of Odin. And this takes place during Ragnarok. Ahhhh, this was glorious! This is about war, and forgiveness, and paths set for us beyond our control. I loved this.

Chattels by Stan Nicholls – ★★
This was just too much information packed into such a short tale. I know the beginning was meant to fill in some of the blanks, but my mind just couldn’t process everything, especially among so many other short stories. I think I would have enjoyed this much more if I was familiar with the author’s previous work(s) and world(s).

The Storm by Miles Cameron – ★★★★
This was one of the longer stories in this collection, but it was very well executed. We get to see an army’s leader try to decide how to save the lives of his men when they are at an impasse because they need to get close enough to breach the wall. This was wonderfully written, and I loved this world so much. I honestly wish I could get a full-length novel.

Shortblade by Brandon Draga – ★★★★
I loved this one, because it was such a bright, shining light in this anthology. It’s light, and funny, and warm, and happy, and the ending was so very nice to read. I’m sure not everyone will enjoy such a sweet tale, but I freakin’ loved it. Pure joy and happiness and has such an important message!

Rendered Chaos by D. M. Murray – ★
This just… started badly for me. When a dude wakes up during a sex dream, to him humping his cot, Lord, please no. This is just crudely written, and really not for me. I found the humor immature and the conversations awful to read. I totally understand the main character was supposed to be unlikable, but I just couldn’t stand to read about him, and I didn’t care about the twist.

The Best and Bravest by M.L. Spencer – ★★★
This story is about a squire who works for his father, and a war between two ancient houses is about to begin. We get to see the dead watching over the events, but I found myself confused through most of this. But the ending was very enjoyable and fulfilling.

Exhibition by Ben Galley – ★★★★
I really enjoyed this one, because it was so unique. It showcased an artist trying to create while an ugly war is unfolding all around them. Ben has such a wonderful prose, and I loved being on this unique journey that did a wonderful job incorporating the title of this anthology, with an entirely different meaning.

Flesh and Coin by Anna Stephens – ★★★★★
Full disclosure: I love Anna, I love her characters, I love her worlds, and I love her perfect writing. I knew from the first paragraph that this story would be no different. Our main character, Stoneheart, is a cutthroat mercenary that has a problem trusting people. She and her crew are lying in wait, and it is all fun and games until her arch nemesis shows up, proving why she has trust issues. Anna Stephens was meant to write, and I loved this story so very much, even though (like always) she rips out my heart.

The Hero of Aral Pass by Mark Lawrence – ★★★★★
What a way to close an anthology. Perfection. Mark Lawrence is such a smart and witty writer, and this story made me giggle quite often. This was my first time being introduced to Prince Jalan Kendeth, but I can safely say I am nothing but excited to read more. Also, this ending was truly perfect. I wish nothing more than to be able to see what tomorrow brings.

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