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MINI REVIEWS: Ash and Huntress by Malinda Lo, Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea Cameron #FFFebruaryReads

Cover of Ash by Malinda Lo, depicting a girl in a white dress curled up on a black background

Rating: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5)

Ash by Malinda Lo is a (sort of) Asian and lesbian retelling of Cinderella. I’ve read the book before, many years ago, and I remember being disappointed, but I wanted to give the it another chance for F/F February.

The book roughly follows the basic pattern of the original fairytale; Ash is orphaned and forced to live with her abusive stepmother and perform menial tasks around the house, wishing for a better life. During my first read, I was bothered by the lack of any sort of romance between Ash and the Prince, and I thought the romance developing between Ash and the king’s huntress instead was predictable. I didn’t feel this way at all this time around, and I’m not entirely sure why. Maybe it’s because I knew what to expect and went in very much wanting to read about Ash and Kaisa falling in love?

Either way, I loved their slowly blossoming romance. It was so cute and I really found myself rooting for them. The relationship between Ash and the fairy Sidhean felt somewhat superfluous and ended quite anticlimactically, but other than that, I was absolutely entranced. The book is slow-paced, but the writing flows so easily that it pulls you in and leaves you wanting to turn the page. I’m glad I gave Ash a second chance.


Cover of Huntress by Malinda Lo, depicting a young Asian woman holding a staff in a fighting pose

DNF @ 27%

Huntress by Malinda Lo was also on my F/F February TBR. It is set in the same world as Ash, though several hundred years earlier, but both books can be read as stand-alones. After enjoying Ash, I was really looking forward to delving into this book, but it turned out to be a bit of a disappointment. The story itself sounded interesting, and this book is again focussed on an F/F romance, but the writing threw me off. The point of view kept shifting without rhyme or reason, sometimes every couple of sentences, and it was driving me nuts. It’s bewildering, since Ash had none of these same issues. I wonder what happened here.


Cover of Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron, depicting a young white woman in a wedding dress on a pink background

DNF @ 30%

I’m sorry to say that Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea Cameron was another disappointment. I’d been excited to read it ever since I first read the summary of trope-y goodness, but I couldn’t force myself to keep wasting time on it after the first few chapters.

The writing is in desperate need of editing. It just drags on and on, and the author keeps contradicting herself. The most egregious example is the main character’s need to marry for money, while she is also spending money left and right seemingly without a second thought. She splurges on not one, but two engagement rings (both for herself and her prospective wife) while at the same time worrying that she won’t be making rent. It was confounding.

I had also been expecting this to be white, but not quite so painfully white. There is of course queer / wlw representation, and one of the side characters is a trans man, but unfortunately that didn’t make up for the lackluster writing.


What have you been reading lately? Have you read any books mentioned in this post? Are you participating in F/F February? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand (4 Stars) #FFFebruaryReads

Cover of Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand, depicting a young woman with a mass of hair falling in her face and white moths crawling over her

Rating: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5)

Who are the Sawkill Girls?

Marion: the new girl. Awkward and plain, steady and dependable. Weighed down by tragedy and hungry for love she’s sure she’ll never find.

Zoey: the pariah. Luckless and lonely, hurting but hiding it. Aching with grief and dreaming of vanished girls. Maybe she’s broken—or maybe everyone else is.

Val: the queen bee. Gorgeous and privileged, ruthless and regal. Words like silk and eyes like knives, a heart made of secrets and a mouth full of lies.

Their stories come together on the island of Sawkill Rock, where gleaming horses graze in rolling pastures and cold waves crash against black cliffs. Where kids whisper the legend of an insidious monster at parties and around campfires.

Where girls have been disappearing for decades, stolen away by a ravenous evil no one has dared to fight… until now.

I’m not usually a horror reader because I don’t enjoy gore, violence, or even just being scared. I mainly picked up Sawkill Girls because of the promise of queer girl representation to read as part of my F/F February Reading Challenge, which I’m also using as motivation to read outside my usual confines. The promise of queer girls was more than fulfilled, and I ended up enjoying this for what it was as well, so this was a definite success.

However, this book does contain some pretty dark and heavy stuff. I’m putting all of the trigger warnings I can think of after this paragraph in transparent text. If you want or need more detail, feel free to hit me up on Twitter. SPOILERS TW parental death, sibling death, suicidality (parent and other), abduction and brutal murder of teenage girls, gore, sexual abuse (implied), emotional and physical abuse (parental and other) END SPOILERS

Sawkill Girls treads the line between horror and magical realism, and especially at the beginning, it is sometimes hard to tell what is real and what isn’t. Marion’s visions and dreams are confusing and unsettling, but they are consolidated into a terrifying reality. I do think that the mystery would have been more compelling if it had been more contained, both in terms of POV and location. I feel that including Val’s POV took away some of the mystery, and the reveal of a world-spanning battle against evil, complete with a secret organisation, was a bit much.

I did love the girls and their relationships though. I found it really refreshing that Zoey immediately believed Marion when she shared her experiences with her, and that the girls didn’t invalidate each other even when confronted with the unbelievable.

All three girls were wonderful, strong and interesting in their own ways. The book accompanies all three of them on a journey of finding their strength and standing up for themselves, while navigating friendship and love. The romance between Marion and Val was really sweet. Their attraction to girls is quite clear in the text, and there’s a lovely sex scene between the two of them. They are both explicitly WLW, although neither of their sexualities is spelled out. I believe that Marion, at least, is bisexual, and the author actually mentions the word, and not in a derogatory manner! I wish that wasn’t still so exceptional, but since it is, I felt it important to mention.

And speaking of spelling out queer orientations: Zoey is explicitly asexual, and it’s great. There is some acephobia in the book, and even though it is thoroughly called out, I couldn’t help but feel a bit upset by it. I’m ready for more asexual acceptance rep! We can be just as happy with and proud of our orientations as everybody else is, and I’d like to see more of that. I would also have loved to see some more ethnic diversity because even though Zoey is black, she and her father are the only people of colour in Sawkill Girls as far as I am aware.

Nevertheless, this was really enjoyable and I was surprised by how much I didn’t want to put it down! It was also upsetting for my sensitive little self, so please heed the content warnings! Overall, this was an amazing story about female friendship, wlw romance, and finding and combining strengths.

Hope, she thought, breathing with the tide, was a choice that only those with resolute hearts dared to make.

READING CHALLENGE: F/F February TBR and Tracker #FFFebruaryReads

Hello, hello, everyone! It’s February, and that means it’s time for the F/F February Reading Challenge!

Banner for the F/F February Challenge, depicting a white redheaded girl hugging a black girl with an afro, surrounded by stacks of books

I meant to get this post up yesterday, but I ended up spending the entire day in a migraine-y haze of pain and fatigue, once again confirming the old disabled adage of “if you haven’t typed up and scheduled it, don’t count on it being up the day you want it to.” But the month is still young, so here’s my very queer TBR!

Some of these books are new discoveries thanks to all the recs generated by this challenge. Others have been languishing on my TBR for ages, and I thought participating in F/F February would be the perfect opportunity to finally give them the attention they deserve. There are also a bunch of books that I would have loved to add to my TBR for the challenge, but I wasn’t able to procure them in time, chief among them being Girls of Paper and Fire, The Priory of the Orange Tree, and We Set the Dark on Fire. I’m still really pleased with my TBR though, and excited to delve into all of these books.

 

  1. Ash by Malinda Lo | Progress: 100% | Rating: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5)| Review
  2. Huntress by Malinda Lo | Progress: DNF @ 27% | Rating: – | Review
  3. Jane, Unlimited by Kristin Cashore | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review
  4. Marriage of Unconvenience by Chelsea M. Cameron | Progress: DNF @ 30% | Rating: – | Review
  5. It’s Not Like It’s A Secret by Misa Sugiura | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review
  6. Our Own Private Universe by Robin Talley | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review
  7. Sawkill Girls by Claire Legrand | Progress: 100% | Rating: Four star rating represented by four bumblebees (4 out of 5) | Review
  8. Not Your Sidekick (Sidekick Squad #1) by C. B. Lee | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review
  9. Inkmistress (Of Fire and Stars #0.5) by Audrey Coulthurst | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review
  10. Of Fire and Stars (Of Fire and Stars #1) by Audrey Coulthurst | Progress: 0% | Rating: – | Review

Are you participating in the F/F February Reading Challenge (or maybe the Sapphicathon)? What are you planning to read? Let’s chat in the comments!