The Queens of Innis Lear by Tessa Gratton

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“In Innis Lear it was believed that the reign of the last queen had been predicted by the stars–and had ended, too, because of them.”

This is a reimagining of Shakespeare’s King Lear unlike any reimagining I’ve ever read before. Tessa Gratton stays very true to the original play, and really makes a feminist statement on all the themes, but she made something so unique, so powerful, and so much its own thing. And every book I read from her ensures that she is becoming one of my favorite authors of all-time. From the themes she creates, to the lyrical writing she weaves, to the beautiful stories she creates, I five star everything by her. And The Queens of Innis Lear was no different, it is a masterpiece.

King Lear is a story about a king who is ready to give up his throne to his three daughters, but they must prove that they are worthy and devoted. But the sisters decide to take their destinies into their own hands, whether that means betrayal of the King or not. And we slowly get to see the king descend into madness. And, again, The Queens of Innis Lear sticks very close to this storyline, too.

Gaela – the oldest daughter – represents ambition. Is a military commander.

“I will wear the crown, and I will get it like a king. Not as a mother and wife, but as the firstborn child, as the strongest.”

Regan – the middle daughter – represents lust. Wants to be a mother.

“The crown of Innis Lear is not made of love […] it is made of dying stars, and lying mouths.”

Elia – the youngest daughter – represents duty. Loves the island of Lear more than anything.

“You’re not the sum of your birth and stars.”

And these three girls, and everyone they’ve ever been in contact with, have had their fate decided by the stars. And they learned this the hard way from their mother, who was destined to die once Gaela turned to sixteen. In this world, the stars are blamed for people’s actions, so that they don’t have to be responsible for the horrible things that happen.

But ultimately this is a story about three girls battling against the futures that their father and the stars have in store for them. These girls are more than the legacy’s that are expected of them. They are more than the sins committed for them and in their name. People with wombs are more than those wombs and the babies they are able to carry inside them. And people are always more than good and bad, because we are complex beings with complex thoughts and actions. Seriously, this the morally grey character book of your dreams.

There are many more characters who equally broke and warmed my heart; Ban, the fox of the forest, Morimaros, the king who has only known how to be king, Brona, the witch of my dreams, and so many more. This is a full cast of players, set up on a stage that they never asked for. And this book inserts flashbacks more perfectly than maybe any other book I’ve ever read. And it creates a storyline that is complete magic.

“Maybe all three of us are cursed. Maybe this is the end of the kingdom of Lear, and the island will become something new. Maybe we never did belong here after all.”

I also want to take a second to talk about the representation. It is heavily implied that Gaela is aroace, but the word is never used on page. And I feel like every side character was implied to be pan or bi. Also, all the princesses are people of color, said to be biracial (black and white).

Overall, I just loved this. I never wanted to put it down. From the beautiful writing, to the important themes, to the enthralling story, this was just a masterpiece. I will say that this very much reads true to an Adult Fantasy, and the writing can be a bit unforgiving at times, but it is so worth it.

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Content and trigger warnings for miscarrying, domestic abuse, thoughts of suicide, suicide, self-harm, grooming, murder, death, blood depictions, rituals, animal deaths, and war themes.

Buddy read with Riley, Amy, Caidyn, Alex, & Jules! ❤

Strange Grace by Tessa Gratton

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

“I fell in love with the forest. And the forest loved me back. And so we traded hearts. Mine is here, larger and stronger than it could have been in the small cavern of my body”

I’ve read over one-hundred books so far in 2018, and Strange Grace is easily my absolute favorite. And I anticipate that it will be my favorite book of 2018 come December 31st, too. What a masterpiece in every sense of the word. Literally perfection. A true gift to the literary world. Friends, if you’re looking for a spooky book, with a dark fairy-tale vibe, that heavily talks about society’s gender expectations, while being a love letter to gender fluidity, with the most heartwarming polyamorous relationship, look no further than this masterpiece.

“The old god and the youngest Grace witch. The story says they loved each other, but can the story be trusted at all?”

In Three Graces, no harm comes to anyone. Babies are born safe, and parents deliver in less pain. Crops are perfect and produce an abundance. Animals never get sick. People heal from cuts overnight and broken bones in a few days. This village is magical, and the community is able to thrive without fear, except for one thing. That one thing? Oh, the devil in the forest that surrounds the village.

Long ago, there were three witches. And the youngest one fell in love with the devil in the village and chose to give him her heart. And together, they made a deal. Every seventh year, when the slaughter moon comes, and the red from the Bone Tree releases, the best boy from the village will run into the forest, willing to sacrifice his life to protect his village for another seven years.

Except this year, the forest is requesting another boy, even though the village should be safe for another three years. The village has to come together and decide what to do. Should they sacrifice their newest best boy, in hopes that the devil that dwells in the forest will accept the offering?

“He was bold and powerful, beautiful and dangerous, but he loved the first Grace witch, and it was from that love the bargain blossomed. This valley is made on love, little bird. Find love. Seek it, always. That is where our power resides.”

We get to follow three characters, who all are tied to the sacrifices by just being born. We get to watch them deal with the safety of their village being removed, and we get to see how each reacts. And they are willing to rise up, they are ready to fight, but they are also so very willing to sacrifice.

Mairwen – White, half witch (from her mother), half saint (from her father that was sacrificed while her mother was pregnant), but wholly called to the forest. The youngest witch, and maybe the most powerful. And shares her heart with two people, and one best friend, that make up her entire universe.

“She is a piece of the wild forest: tangled vines of hair; beautiful dress torn and heavy at the hem with mud and water; insistent, dangerous eyes; lips parted; cheeks flushed. An ax loose in one hand like she’s the vengeful spirit in a terrible story.”

Arthur – White, was raised as a girl, because his mother couldn’t bear the thought of him being sacrificed, but the secret came out. And Arthur has felt trapped between the two worlds ever since, while wishing people could understand that there is more than just two genders. Yet, Arthur feels the need to prove themself as the best boy in the village, not just for the rest of the men to see, but to save the true best boy.

“Nobody can change who he is except for himself, not any saint ritual, not an ignorant, terrified town, not a night spent in the forest, not a dress or a kiss”

Rhun – Black, and the boy that completes this beautiful triad. Good, pure, kind, caring, and truly, above all else, the best boy in the village. But his goodness made it so that he was always literally raised for the slaughter.

“If love can protect anybody, it will protect Rhun Sayer.”

And these three have completely captured my soul and I’ve never shipped or loved a fictional relationship more. This story is a masterpiece, the discussions are life changing, and the writing feels like it comes from some sort of higher-power and/or magical deity. I promise you all, this story is now embedded in my very DNA. If you could only pick up one book that I recommend in 2018, please have it be Strange Grace.

Gender roles and the constructs that every society places on them is a constant theme in this book. Arthur’s character is so wonderful, and even though it was painful at times, was such a breath of fresh air to read about. We get to see Arthur feel ostracized from “girl things” but also never being able to fit in with the “boy things”, and we get to see Arthur realize how toxic that way of thinking truly is.

“What hurt him was the rule change. Being forced out of girlhood into boyhood, as if it were only an either/ or, as if to make any other choice was unnatural.”

And in general, the sexual representation is amazing. Like, everyone in this book is queer. Mairwen states attraction to different/no genders, obviously Rhun and Arthur are attracted to different/no genders, Arthur is (in my opinion) non-binary, Mairwen’s mom has a woman partner; this book has a whole lot of gay. And you all know how much the polyamorous rep meant to me, and how much I was living for it, while turning every page of this book. And I’m just going to pretend like they are all pansexual and go to sleep with a smile on my face each night. Thanks.

“It’s fear. Not of the devil, but fear of change. Fear of doing anything different that might cause a ripple and bring it all down. Fear of a little boy in a dress, because he didn’t fit into the structure of town, the rules. There was never anything wrong with Arthur.”

And this entire book is a love letter to found families everywhere. Mairwen, Rhun, and Arthur have created something so beautiful and their friendship is honestly goals. Unconditional love is always at the forefront of their relationship and of this story. And this entire book feels like a bright light that celebrates that the family you create and choose will always be superior than the once you are born into without any saying. Also, I haven’t talked about her yet, but Haf, Mairwen’s other best friend, is the sweetest soul in the book. I loved her. I’m happy the town believe in their misogynistic hearts that they had to sacrifice only their best boys, instead of their best human, because Haf is truly the best character in Three Graces. Like, I would totally sacrifice myself for her, Mairween, Rhun, and Arthur. Like, I’m walking into the forest now, because I love them all so much. Bye.

“I love you,” […] “Both of you, and all of you. Hold on to my heart and I’ll be fine.”

And I honestly feel like, somehow, this forest crept into my home and crept into me. This was so spooky and so atmospheric, but I couldn’t put it down. No matter how scary or how dark it got; I was so completely addicted. Some of these passages left me feeling like I was on my own alter, deep in the forest, chest open, ribs cracked, leaving my heart bared for all to see. Yeah, that good. I don’t have words.

I truly believe that sometimes you just completely connect with an author’s writing and it will wholeheartedly teleport you into that story. I read the anthology Three Sides of a Heart , and I fell so completely hard for Tessa Gratton’s writing. I always pick a favorite short story in anthologies, but normally it’s a hard choice, yet Tessa made that anthology’s pick so easy. And then I fell in love with another short story by her in All Out, and I knew I had to read a full-length book from this author. And friends, it was like picking a book up for the first and time and realize that power that books can hold. Tessa’s writing is on another tier all by itself, and I am still, days later, left in awe of it. If you like lyrical writing, with captivating stories that are completely transportive, you need to give Strange Grace a read. I promise, you won’t be disappointed.

But this being said, I went into Strange Grace only expecting good writing and nothing more. But I can’t believe I found probably the best book of 2018. And this might be the best written book I’ve ever read in my entire life. I honestly had goosebumps while read at least 75% of this book. And even though this is a dark and spooky read, those goosebumps where completely from Tessa Gratton’s writing completely piercing my soul.

“You can break it all, or remake it.”

Overall, I recommend this with my heart and soul. Not only is this probably going to be my favorite book of 2018, it also has the best polyamorous relationship I’ve read ever. I’m not sure my heart has ever beat so fast, broken so painfully, or warmed so much, for any fictional relationship. The woods, the writing, the spell this book placed on me, it’s like nothing I’ve ever experience. Please, friend, pick this book up. Not only is it going to make the perfect autumnal read, it just feels like the book of my heart. Thank you so much, Tessa, for this once in a lifetime book that I’ll cherish forever.

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

Content and trigger warnings for animal death, bullying, trauma, grief, murder, torture, human sacrifice, abandonment, and just in general, this is a spooky book that I would for sure classify as horror. Please use caution, friends.

Buddy read with Candance at Literary Dust, Lilly at Lair of Books, & Julie at Pages and Pens! ❤

Three Sides of a Heart: Stories about Love Triangles edited by Natalie C. Parker

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

First off, I did enjoy this, but this collection uses the term “love triangle” very loosely, in my opinion. Some of the stories could have probably benefited from a stricter use of the word. It was so very diverse in race, sexuality, settings, social structures, and more, and I really appreciated it. I honestly felt like the majority of these stories had a queer aspect to them and that brings so much joy to me. A few of the stories even beautifully showcases budding polyamorous relationships, which is almost unheard of in YA! But like all anthologies, this was a mixed bag, yet overall, I really did enjoy reading this anthology for the most part. I also feel like there is a big enough variety that most people will come out with at least a couple five star stories out of the sixteen.

And I stuck to my Fantasy roots, because my personal favorite in the whole collection was Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton, who was a completely new to me author before this anthology! Their story was a high fantasy short that beautifully features an open-minded start of a polyamorous relationship, set in an amazingly unique world, that also features a kingdom that heavily believes in their religion at all costs. This was smart, this was sexy, this was emotional, and this was honestly perfect for me and my tastes. Please, give me more from this world in a full-length version. But I also want to state that Julie Murphy’s Lessons for Beginners was a very close second (and so worth everyone’s time to read)!

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

Riddles in Mathematics by Katie Cotugno – ★★★★
This was such a good opening story, oh my word! This is a queer short story, set at Christmas/New Years’ time, and stars a girl that has just recently came out to her family. She is struggling with how they perceive her, even though they are really lovely and accepting, and she is struggling to stop feeling so lonely with her unrequited crush, who also happens to be her brother’s best friend. This felt so authentic, and real, and was able to evoke a lot of emotions from me. I loved this completely, and the only reason I gave this four stars was because I never really felt a love triangle! But this was still so amazing.

Dread South by Justina Ireland – ★★★★★
Okay, this was an extra good read for me, because I just read and loved Dread Nation last month! Well, this short story is part of that world, where an alternate history is taking place after the American Civil War! The blacks and Native children in this world have to go to combat schools to eventually protect the whites from the zombies that now walk among us. And our main character, Louisa, is gifted a girl to protect her, by the boy she thinks she is destined to marry. Louisa, slowfully and painfully, starts to realize her privilege, and then starts thinking about what she really wants from life. Oh, and in case you couldn’t tell, this is also a queer story! And that ending was honestly perfection.

Omega Ship by Rae Carson – ★★
This was a… very unexpected love triangle for this collection. Basically, an asteroid was going to destroy Earth in nine months time, so a space ship was launched with a bunch of kids so that that they could repopulate a new habitable planet. Well, this story is about how only three of those kids made it out alive and were able to get to the escape pod to land on the new planet. The three survivors are one girl and two boys, and the girl now feels the weight of the world on her shoulders (literally), because she is going to have to repopulate the human race with only her womb. And she has to pick what boy she wants to repopulate with first. This story just… felt not good? Like, it was trying to take a feminist angle on everything, and how the girl should be in control of her body, but it just felt like three hot teens were hanging out and excited to have sex with each other. But if this turns into a full length, NA, polyamorous story… sign me up for that.

La Revancha del Tango by Renee Ahdieh – ★
I really didn’t enjoy this one. It’s about a girl who just graduated high school and traveled to Argentina alone, to stay in a hostel for one night before her brother meets her. She is still grieving from her dad’s death, and she makes a few book references, and she… likes to salsa dance (all of these just feel so forced and random. But the main character, despite traveling alone and going to a nightclub with people she just met at a hostel, also felt so rude all the time to me. And, I’m still desperately confused as to who was the other point of the love triangle. The dancer? I honestly didn’t like anything about this, I’m sorry.

Cass, An, and Dra by Natalie C. Parker – ★★★
Cass is obsessed with the different paths in life a person can take. She is constantly thinking and analyzing what her choice(s) will lead to, since she can kind of predict and/or see what is going to steam from the choice(s). But the one thing Cass is always certain will be a constantly in her life is An, that is, until she meets Dra. This was a bit weird, and it felt really disjointed while reading, I also didn’t care for Cass not being completely open with her feelings and actions. And the ending really left a lot to be desired. But I loved seeing a genderfluid love triangle point, and everyone used they/them pronouns! But now, after I talked about this with Destiny, I’m questioning if this was just a huge metaphor for Cass’ self-identity because, CassAnDra…. And now my mind is blown, and I’m just unsure how to interpret this! But maybe that’s the beauty of it.

Lessons for Beginners by Julie Murphy – ★★★★★
Our main character is an expert kisser, and gives kissing lessons to other kids from her school. She has a website, and sets up everything online, so her identity remains anonymous until the teaching begins. Ruby only has one real friend, Paul, and everyone is always really surprised to find out that she is the “Kisser Fixer”. And then one day a childhood friend of hers and her boyfriend require her services. This was perfect. Heartwarming, emotional, everything, and had such good representation (queer, body, and race). I loved this so much. This is actually the first thing I’ve ever read from Julie Murphy, and now I want anything and everything by her.

Triangle Solo by Garth Nix – ★
This one just didn’t work for me, probably because it’s about two high school boys lusting over the beautiful new girl they knew in their youth. And even though this is sort of an SFF short, because they live and go to school on a planet that is not Earth, it still read like basic horny teenage boys. And I’m just not about that life. Especially when they are viewing something as lesser until they realize they can use it as a way to get the girl.

Vim and Vigor by Veronica Roth – ★★★★★
I really enjoyed this. This is about a girl picking between two boys to go to prom with, and then she realizes her value and how friends can love you just as well as any boy ever could. This was so pure, and I honestly just had fun reading it. Also, it’s about girls in a comic club that draw and love their fandom, while also grieving the loss of one of their members. This was just heartwarming, and easily one of the best stories in this collection. And give me all the stories about girls picking their friends who unconditionally love them!

Work in Progress by E.K. Johnston – ★
I’m not sure what would possess this author to think that writing three separate stories, all told in 2nd person, all feeling and sounding like the same person, even though they are all completely different points of view, would be a good idea. But needless to say, this did not work for me in the slightest. The third story was the strongest, but I was too annoyed, irritated, and confused at that point to even care.

Hurdles by Brandy Colbert – ★★★★
This story had so much good packed inside of this short little story. This story heavily talks about being the person your parents want you to be, while also trying to balance being the person you want to be. It talks about parents putting too much pressure on their kids, and maybe even trying to live vicariously through them. It talks about addiction, alcohol abuse specifically, and how we treat people once they come back from getting help. I guess what I’m trying to say is that this story meant a lot to me, and high school Melanie would have been able to connect with this story immediately. My only problem was the ending. I’m not saying that cliffhangers or open-ended endings are the worst thing ever, but I just wanted more. Like, write me this full-length novel, please, Brandy Colbert. I’m honestly begging you. This story was great, the characters were fully fleshed out (which is beyond impressive for a short story), and the writing was completely addicting. This was the first thing I’ve read by Brandy Colbert, but now I want to read everything. I really enjoyed this.

The Historian, The Garrison, and the Cantakerous Catwoman by Lamar Giles – ★★★★
Okay, I really enjoyed this one. Morally grey main protagonist, who is learning the life lesson that not everyone will love you the way you love them, while also being a story filled with monster hunting. Like, sign me the hell up for a full-length version of this. I’m legit only giving this four stars, because this could have been such a beautiful polyamorous relationship that would have given me everything I would have ever wanted.

Waiting by Sabaa Tahir – ★
Okay, this is going to sound horrible and petty, but… she picked the wrong guy. Like, I’m all about how you can’t tell people who to love, but like, no. This story is a perfect example of what I do not like in a love triangle. And that’s why it never truly feels like a love triangle and the girl picks the dude she first laid eyes on first anyways, because… reasons Seriously, Fèlix deserved so much better.

Vega by Brenna Yovanoff – ★★★
All the different names just being dropped at the start was really off-putting. But this short story does take place in Vegas, which is where I live, so I wanted to enjoy it, but it’s filled with the Vegas stereotypes of gambling, drug use, and addiction. I mean, I know that’s an important and very really discussion for many, but it’s a reality for many people in many cities, not just Vegas. I don’t know, maybe I’m being biased, but I just wish it didn’t feel so bad for me to read. I will say that this book feels very much like Vegas, and the author does a wonderful job teleporting you there. I also feel like this is a type of story that I really like though, and I think the love triangle between that stars a girl picking between a boy she has loved her whole life and a city is pretty genius. And it was a much different read than most in this collection, so I appreciated it.

A Hundred Thousand Threads by Alaya Dawn Johnson – ★★
This was just really boring to me and I honestly felt like I had to force myself to finish it. Maybe it was because the format was told in messages, but I’m not even sure I can blame the disconnect on that. Basically, the only thing I enjoyed was a Mexico City set in the future. And I can see some people really enjoying the plot twist, but I thought it was really predictable.

Before She Was Bloody by Tessa Gratton – ★★★★★
I do think this was the high fantasy polyamorous short story that I was after while starting this anthology. Safiya is Moon Eater’s Mistress and her position is very important among her people. Her blessings mean the difference between everything, while her family also sits upon the throne. Unfortunately, Safiya is also unable to take a male lover named Enver, because she must be dedicated to their God. Yet, her best friend, Farah, has sworn her life to her. But Safiya and Farah both want Enver, and Safiya doesn’t want Farah to miss out because of her and the station that was placed on her. This was so freaking amazing. This was smart, this was sexy, this was emotional, and that first kiss, holy moly, that first kiss blew me away. I loved this. This was my favorite of the collection, and I’d love to have a full length story of these characters and this world.

Unus, Duo, Tres by Bethany Hagen – ★★★★★
Um, this is about undead vampires at a Catholic boarding school who are thinking about a polyamorous relationship. It’s diverse with race and sexuality, the characters were phenomenal, the writing was excellent, and it’s pretty much the only thing I wanted for Christmas this year. I don’t want to say too much, because this story is definitely best to go into blind, but that ending was so damn shocking, but perfect in and of itself. I really loved this one.

I gave Three Sides of a Heart 3 stars overall, because out of a possible 80 stars (5 stars possible for each of the 16 stories) this collection accumulated 51 stars (~63%).

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Buddy read with Alexis over at The Sloth Reader (my favorite BookTuber) & Destiny (my favorite blogger)! ❤