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BOOK PLAYLIST: The Black Veins by Ashia Monet

Hi everyone, I’m back! And I’m extremely excited to bring you my contribution to the Guardians Blog Tour for Ashia Monet’s forthcoming debut The Black Veins. The tour was organised by CW and you can find the introduction post over on The Quiet Pond.

Author photo of Ashia Monet, a smiling black woman with pastel pink hair
Ashia Monet is a speculative fiction author whose work almost always includes found families, diverse ensemble casts, the power of friendship, and equal parts humor and drama. Some of her favorite things are The Adventure Zone, Ariana Grande, and the color pink. You can follow her on Twitter @ashiamonet and Instagram @ashiawrites.


SO WHY SHOULD YOU READ THE BLACK VEINS?

If any of the following sound like your cup of tea, The Black Veins is definitely for you:

  • a badass black bisexual girl protagonist whose weapon of choice is a magical hockey stick
  • a road trip with lots of road blocks
  • an unlikely found family full of queer kids, trans kids, and kids of colour
  • teenage girls discovering their magic and their worth
  • YA urban fantasy without romance

Before we move on to the playlist, take a look at this awesome cover and the official blurb:

Cover of The Black Veins by Ashia Monet, depicting the title in neon white, blue, and pink writing on a brick wall background

In a world where magic thrives in secret city corners, a group of magicians embark on a road trip—and it’s the “no-love-interest”, found family adventure you’ve been searching for.

Sixteen-year-old Blythe is one of seven Guardians: magicians powerful enough to cause worldwide panic with a snap of their fingers. But Blythe spends her days pouring latte art at her family’s coffee shop, so why should she care about having apocalyptic abilities?

She’s given a reason when magician anarchists crash into said coffee shop and kidnap her family.

Heartbroken but determined, Blythe knows she can’t save them alone. A war is brewing between two magician governments and tensions are too high. So, she packs up her family’s bright yellow Volkswagen, puts on a playlist, and embarks on a road trip across the United States to enlist the help of six strangers whose abilities are unparalleled—the other Guardians. — Goodreads


PLAYLIST: GET IN, LOSER, WE’RE GOING TO ELECTRIC CITY

With this playlist, I’ve tried to capture the mood of the book while also picking up some of the prevalent themes like friendship and the importance of believing in yourself. The songs I used are mostly by queer and / or poc artists, and I really hope you enjoy it! You can listen to the playlist on Spotify, or click on the respective song title in the track list below to listen to each song on YouTube:

  1. 2nd Floor Window — Terence Blanchard
  2. Unholy War — Jacob Banks
  3. Run Away – Manila Killa
  4. Didn’t Cha Know — Erykah Badu
  5. Friendship Station — Le Tigre
  6. Can’t Be Sure — Tei Shi
  7. Standing in the Way of Control — Gossip
  8. Remain — Jay Som
  9. City Lights — Blanche
  10. Disparate Youth — Santigold

If this post has piqued your interest, please preorder The Black Veins at any of the following links: Amazon | Barnes and Noble | Indigo | Apple Books

And don’t forget to check out the other blog tour posts by my amazing co-contributors!

THE BLACK VEINS BLOG TOUR SCHEDULE

Banner for The Black Veins Blog Tour, with the book's title in neon white, blue, and pink writing on a brick wall background

11th July
CW @ The Quiet Pond (Introduction + Review)

12th July
Fran @ The Ramblebee (List + Playlist)
Fadwa @ Word Wonders (Review + Aesthetic)

13th July
Melanie @ Mel to the Any/BookTube (Review only)
Sage @ sageshelves (Review + Discussion Post [Benefits of No Romantic Arc])

14th July
Kate @ Your Tita Kate (Review only)
Vinny @ Artsy Draft (Review + Lockscreen/Wallpapers)

15th July
Lili @ Utopia State of Mind (Review + Hand Lettering)
Noémie @ Tempest of Books (Review + Discussion [‘No Romance’])

16th July
Marie @ Drizzle and Hurricane Books (Review only)
Surina @ Book Reviews by the Bloggisters (Review + Author Interview)

17th July
Saoudia @ Recs From Ur Friend (Review + Quiz [Which Guardian Are You?])
Gretal @ Books and Breadcrumbs (Review + Discussion [No Romantic Arc])

18th July
Kate @ Reading Through Infinity (Review + Author Interview)
Vanessa @ The Wolf & Books (Review + Moodboard OR Playlist)


Thank you so much to CW @ The Quiet Pond for organising this blog tour, and to both CW and Ashia for letting me be a part of my first ever blog tour!

BOOK SERIES REVIEW: Sidekick Squad by C. B. Lee (3.5 Stars)

Cover of Not Your Sidekick by C. B. Lee, depicting an Asian girl jumping across a gap, with a superhero zooming behind her on an orange background

Rating: Rating of three-and-a-half out of five stars represented by bumblebees (3.5 out of 5)

Welcome to Andover… where superpowers are common, but internships are complicated. Just ask high school nobody, Jessica Tran. Despite her heroic lineage, Jess is resigned to a life without superpowers and is merely looking to beef-up her college applications when she stumbles upon the perfect (paid!) internship—only it turns out to be for the town’s most heinous supervillain.

On the upside, she gets to work with her longtime secret crush, Abby, who Jess thinks may have a secret of her own. Then there’s the budding attraction to her fellow intern, the mysterious “M,” who never seems to be in the same place as Abby. But what starts as a fun way to spite her superhero parents takes a sudden and dangerous turn when she uncovers a plot larger than heroes and villains altogether. — Goodreads

Not Your Sidekick is such an enjoyable read. It was different from what I was expecting though, which almost caused me to DNF it after the first third. While Sidekick Squad is a YA series and the characters are YA age, the overall tone reads much more Middle Grade to me. However, I was able to settle into the read more easily after I realised that C. B. Lee’s style was intentionally casual and a bit cartoonish.

The plot bumbled along pretty slowly in the first half of the book and I never really got invested in the big-picture stakes. The book is trope-y to the point of being slightly predictable, but a well-written trope can be super fun. The romance between Jess and Abby is filled with fun tropes, like Jess crushing on her crush’s secret identity, and I loved it! It’s just kind of invigorating to get to read about queer girls falling in love in cute scenarios.

Overall, what really made Not Your Sidekick for me was the diverse representation. The main characters are all characters of colour and my favourite, Bells, is a Black transmasculine bi dude. The characters ask for each other’s pronouns when they meet and treat others in caring and respectful ways. I also loved Jess finding respect for herself and starting to realise her worth. The tone and writing may not have been a perfect fit for me, but the characters won me over and made me love this book in the end.


Cover of Not Your Villain by C.B. Lee, depicting a Black boy balancing on hovertrain tracks on a green background

Rating: Rating of three-and-a-half out of five stars represented by bumblebees (3.5 out of 5)

Bells Broussard thought he had it made when his superpowers manifested early. Being a shapeshifter is awesome. He can change his hair whenever he wants, and if putting on a binder for the day is too much, he’s got it covered. But that was before he became the country’s most-wanted villain.

After discovering a massive cover-up by the Heroes’ League of Heroes, Bells and his friends Jess, Emma, and Abby set off on a secret mission to find the Resistance. Meanwhile, power-hungry former hero Captain Orion is on the loose with a dangerous serum that renders meta-humans powerless, and a new militarized robotic threat emerges. Everyone is in danger. Between college applications and crushing on his best friend, will Bells have time to take down a corrupt government?

Sometimes, to do a hero’s job, you need to be a villain. — Goodreads

This second book in the Sidekick Squad series is told from the point of view of Bells, who was my favourite character in the first book. I was really excited when I picked up Not Your Villain, but my excitement waned a little when the first third of the book was mostly spent rehashing the events of Not Your Sidekick. But since it had taken me about that long to get into the first book, I persevered and was definitely not disappointed!

I love Bells so much. While his being trans is treated as a pivotal part of who he is, it’s not his defining trait. I really enjoyed the casual references to Bells wearing binders, injecting T-shots, and shapeshifting his body to assuage gender dysphoria. It’s just not the kind of rep you get to see every day, and it made me very emotional. My breaking point was when Bells arrived at a secret hide-out location after having to run and finding that his dad had taken emergency T-patches for him. I’m not going to lie, I teared up a little. Even though my own experiences don’t line up with Bells’ 100%, this representation still meant so much to me.

Again, I ended up loving this book in spite of not entirely jiving with the writing. I think the Sidekick Squad series would be great for both younger and older readers. If you’re looking for a read with low-ish stakes and tropes galore, this is one for you, especially if you hardly ever see yourself represented.

Not Your Back-Up, the third book in the series told from Emma’s point of view, is coming out today, and I will definitely be picking it up as soon as I get a chance. In Not Your Villain, Emma comes out to Bells as aromantic / asexual questioning. Being aroace myself and having read the previous two books and cherished the representation, I already know this will be another emotional but fun-packed read.


Have you read any of the Sidekick Squad books? Are you as excited for Not Your Back-Up as I am? Let’s chat in the comments below!

ARC REVIEW: Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy (2 Stars)

Cover of Once & Future by Amy Rose Capetta and Cori McCarthy, depicting a glowing sowrd being grabbed by two hands in elegant armour

Rating: Rating of two out of five stars represented by bumblebees (2 out of 5)

I’ve been chased my whole life. As a fugitive refugee in the territory controlled by the tyrannical Mercer corporation, I’ve always had to hide who I am. Until I found Excalibur.

Now I’m done hiding.

My name is Ari Helix. I have a magic sword, a cranky wizard, and a revolution to start.

When Ari crash-lands on Old Earth and pulls a magic sword from its ancient resting place, she is revealed to be the newest reincarnation of King Arthur. Then she meets Merlin, who has aged backward over the centuries into a teenager, and together they must break the curse that keeps Arthur coming back. Their quest? Defeat the cruel, oppressive government and bring peace and equality to all humankind.

No pressure. — Goodreads

Once & Future is a sapphic King Arthur retelling in space, and as much as that sounds like a recipe for awesome, I unfortunately didn’t enjoy this half as much as I thought I was going to.

The first half is a fun found family space romp that boasts an incredibly diverse cast. The main character Ari is Arab and queer, and her adoptive family consists of her brother Kay and her two moms. Once & Future‘s iteration of Merlin is as gay as a maypole, while Ari’s love interest Gwen is bi-racial white and Asian. Ari’s merry band of knights includes Lamarack, who is black, genderfluid, and an amputee, Val, who is black and queer, and Jordan, who is asexual, though I strongly disliked the way her asexuality was handled.

Jordan’s asexuality was revealed in a plot twist, setting it apart from all of the other queer orientations, none of which the authors felt the need to reveal through a coming out or otherwise treat as a spoiler. Additionally, Jordan’s asexuality was only revealed to explain that she was no threat to the main f/f relationship, regardless of the fact that asexuality does not equal not having any desire for a relationship, romantic or even sexual, or not having any attraction at all. Not to mention the implication that just because Jordan is asexual, someone else couldn’t desire her. Implying that there is no reason to be jealous of asexual people simply on the basis of their sexual orientation treats asexuals as automatically undesirable, and as an asexual reader I found this portrayal hurtful and upsetting, especially coming from two queer authors.

As delightful as the diverse representation otherwise is, the writing could use some work. The purple prose made this space opera veer into soap opera territory more than once. The pacing is off, especially with regards to the emotional arcs, which felt rushed and unsatisfying. Even the character deaths seemed more like an afterthought, so they didn’t have much of an emotional impact on me.

Despite all of the issues with the writing, I enjoyed the first half of the book well enough. However, a revelation early in the second half almost made me DNF Once & Future. MAJOR SPOILER — Ari finally visits her home planet, Ketch, only to find out that the entire population has been wiped out and she is the last the Ketchan, or Arab, in the universe. Even though one of the authors is part Lebanese, using the genocide of an entire planet populated exclusively by Arab people as a plot twist felt extremely gross to me. — END SPOILER

I decided to keep reading because I wanted to see where the story was going, but the book definitely started deteriorating after the major spoiler, and finishing the last third turned out to be quite a chore. The authors kept injecting unnecessary interpersonal drama, and the weird love triangle and its aftermath were particularly frustrating. And then there was the villain, the Administrator, the evil capitalist overlord of the universe, who unfortunately didn’t work for me at all. He was much too comical to actually be scary.

I’m bummed that I didn’t enjoy this more, especially given the super diverse cast. Unfortunately, the great premise was let down by the writing, but the major spoiler event mentioned above is what really, well, spoiled my enjoyment.

Thank you so much to NetGalley and Little, Brown for providing me with an eARC in exchange for an honest review.


Have you read Once & Future? What are your thoughts? Let’s chat in the comments below!

BOOK REVIEW: The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta (3.5 Stars)

Cover of The Brilliant Death by Amy Rose Capetta, depicting a dagger with a feather as its blade on a vibrant orange background

Rating: Rating of three-and-a-half out of five stars represented by bumblebees (3.5 out of 5)

For Teodora DiSangro, a mafia don’s daughter, family is fate.

All her life, Teodora has hidden the fact that she secretly turns her family’s enemies into music boxes, mirrors, and other decorative objects. After all, everyone in Vinalia knows that stregas—wielders of magic—are figures out of fairytales. Nobody believes they’re real.

Then the Capo, the land’s new ruler, sends poisoned letters to the heads of the Five Families that have long controlled Vinalia. Four lie dead and Teo’s beloved father is gravely ill. To save him, Teo must travel to the capital as a DiSangro son—not merely disguised as a boy, but transformed into one.

Enter Cielo, a strega who can switch back and forth between male and female as effortlessly as turning a page in a book. Teo and Cielo journey together to the capital, and Teo struggles to master her powers and to keep her growing feelings for Cielo locked in her heart. As she falls in love with witty, irascible Cielo, Teo realizes how much of life she’s missed by hiding her true nature. But she can’t forget her mission, and the closer they get to the palace, the more sinister secrets they uncover about what’s really going on in their beloved country—and the more determined Teo becomes to save her family at any cost.

I’ve been yearning to read this book ever since I first heard about it a couple of months ago. Non-binary representation is still few and far between, and being agender myself, discovering a book has non-binary characters is like having my birthday and Christmas on the same day.

The Brilliant Death follows Teodora, who uses her carefully hidden magic powers to rid her family of their enemies. She’s her father’s eldest daughter, but being a girl, she can never inherit the title of family head, and her most fervent wish is to be a di Sangro son. She finally gets her wish when she has to transform herself into a boy and journey to Amalia as her family’s representative in the wake of her father’s poisoning, accompanied by another strega, Cielo.

I occasionally thought that the writing was a little bumpy, and especially in the beginning, the pacing was slightly off. The writing is still engaging though, and the further I got into the book, the less I wanted to put it down.

I really enjoyed Teo’s character development. She grows so much over the course of the book. Growing up as a mafia don’s child has left her with a warped sense of morality, but in her pursuit of power, she re-evaluates right and wrong. At the end of the book, she makes a pivotal decision that I didn’t see coming but cheered for nonetheless.

It felt like I had spent my entire life speaking a secret language and then stumbled on someone else who was perfectly fluent.

I also loved the relationship between Teo and Cielo. As they journey across the mountains and navigate court, they teach each other about magic and power, family and gender. They slowly fall in love, and while they often tease and bicker, they share some deep moments as well. Their attraction to each other is palpable, no matter which form either Cielo or Teo take, and there are a couple of really hot scenes between the two characters. Hoo boy, does this author know how to cook up some sexual tension.

“It’s true that I contain more than one thing,” Cielo said. “And sometimes the balance shifts.”

I do have some critical thoughts on the non-binary representation. I loved Cielo as a character, but the binarism and biological essentialism in the exploration of gender bothered me.

“I can’t figure out if I should be using the word he or she or something else entirely.” (…)

“Either will do,” Cielo said. (…) “Though all of those words feel a bit like coats that are too tight in the elbows.”

I feel like this was a missed opportunity to introduce either they pronouns or maybe even neo-pronouns, instead of pushing the narrative that there are two ill-fitting options to choose from. Cielo is genderfluid, and it rankles that Teo always uses she when Cielo is in their “girlish body” and he when Cielo is in their “boyish body”, reinforcing the idea that certain pronouns match certain bodies.

A true non-binary exploration of gender should challenge the idea that any one type of body has a certain gender, or that certain biological traits mark you as a boy or a girl. Considering the author is non-binary herself, I was expecting a lot better.

The queer representation was great. Neither Teo’s nor Cielo’s sexuality is ever stated outright, but it’s safe to assume from the text that they’re both some flavour of queer, and Teo makes her attraction to women quite clear more than once. Overall, I would have appreciated some more diverse representation, especially with regards to race and disability.

Even though it’s not perfect, I really enjoyed The Brilliant Death, and I’m glad that this book has put Amy Rose Capetta on my radar. I will definitely be checking out some of her other books, first and foremost Once & Future, since I received an eARC for that one. I’m excited!


Have you read The Brilliant Death or any of the author’s other books? Let’s chat in the comments below!

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!