Tag Archives: LGBT

A Review of Dare vs. The Doll

Dare vs the Doll: A not-actually-scary horror short story Kindle Edition by Si Clarke author. Image on cover is a photo of a scruffy little dog looking up with alarm at someone standing next it in rain boots. Title: Dare vs. The Doll – A not-actually-scary horror short story

Author: Si Clarke

Publisher: White Hart Fiction

Publication Date: March 30, 2021

Genres:  Horror, Parody, Humour, Romance, Contemporary

Length: 31 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

Who expects a haunted doll to be such a nuisance?

When Dare’s dog discovers an abandoned doll on their doorstep, Dare assumes it’s nothing more than a lost toy… until it begins to talk.

After the doll offers up a string of bad suggestions and unhelpful advice, Dare is left wondering if the isolation of lockdown has finally proved too much.

Struggling to get rid of the bed-tempered toy, Dare has no idea that this not-quite-scary fiend will accidentally change everything.

With a dash of humour, this queer cosy-horror short story is a fun, quirky tale – perfect for readers who like the idea of being scared more than the reality of it.

Review:

Content Warning: One haunted doll. This was also technically set during a Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 or early 2021, but none of the characters were sick or anything during it.

Some problems are much easier to solve than you might think!

Dare was an amazing main character. I will leave it up to readers who have autism to comment on those aspects of this character, but I really enjoyed their matter-of-fact approach to any number of problems, from the sudden appearance of a rainstorm to the probably evil doll that they couldn’t seem to get rid of no matter what they tried. Honestly, Dare was exactly the sort of person I’d hope to have around in an emergency. If only all characters in Horror stories were this sensible and practical!

I would have liked to see the author spend more time on the parody elements of the plot, especially when it came to making fun of how many characters behave at the beginning of horror stories. Those were the best scenes in this short story in my opinion, and I would have loved to have more of them. The author did an excellent job of acknowledging the expectations of that genre while also showing a much more realistic reaction to learning that one’s dog has accidentally brought home a haunted doll. I simply needed more of these elements in order to give this a higher rating due to how important those themes were to the storyline.

The romantic plot twist was as unexpected as it was delightful. I rarely find stories that mix romance and horror together, especially if they’re about Queer characters. This is even more true when I narrow that list down to authors who have done so successfully for me as a reader. They are such wildly different genres that it’s pretty difficult to find the right balance between the lightheartedness of most romance and the heavier themes of most horror, so it was a great deal of fun to see how it happened here.

Dare vs. The Doll made me chuckle.

Learning to Be Good: A Review of The School for Good Mothers

The School for Good Mothers by Jessamine Chan book cover. Image on cover shows a pink wall with a long, dark corridor in the middle of it. Title: The School for Good Mothers

Author: Jessamine Chan

Publisher: Simon & Schuster

Publication Date: January 4, 2022

Genres: Science Fiction, Dystopia, Contemporary

Length: 336 pages

Source: I borrowed it from the library.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

In this taut and explosive debut novel, one lapse in judgement lands a young mother in a government reform program where custody of her child hangs in the balance.

Frida Liu is struggling. She doesn’t have a career worthy of her Chinese immigrant parents’ sacrifices. She can’t persuade her husband, Gust, to give up his wellness-obsessed younger mistress. Only with Harriet, their cherubic daughter, does Frida finally attain the perfection expected of her. Harriet may be all she has, but she is just enough.

Until Frida has a very bad day.

The state has its eyes on mothers like Frida. The ones who check their phones, letting their children get injured on the playground; who let their children walk home alone. Because of one moment of poor judgment, a host of government officials will now determine if Frida is a candidate for a Big Brother-like institution that measures the success or failure of a mother’s devotion.

Faced with the possibility of losing Harriet, Frida must prove that a bad mother can be redeemed. That she can learn to be good.

A searing page-turner that is also a transgressive novel of ideas about the perils of “perfect” upper-middle class parenting; the violence enacted upon women by both the state and, at times, one another; the systems that separate families; and the boundlessness of love, The School for Good Mothers introduces, in Frida, an everywoman for the ages. Using dark wit to explore the pains and joys of the deepest ties that bind us, Chan has written a modern literary classic.

Review:

Content Warning: Physical abuse, emotional abuse, child abuse, child neglect, kidnapping, mental illness, and suicide. I will briefly mention the abuse and mental illness in my review.

What does it mean to be a decent parent, and who should decide how and when to judge the parenting of others?

Some of my favourite scenes were the ones that explored the science fiction elements of the plot. This school wasn’t like anything we have in our world, although it did take a while for the fantastical elements of it to make themselves known. I was eager to figure out how the scientific advancements that were described there worked and if they would accomplish the goals that the program was designed to pursue. Every new revelation only made me yearn to learn even more. As much as I want to gush about this topic in great detail, it’s best if other readers discover everything for themselves.

This tale needed more character development. The act that lead to Frida being sent to The School for Good Mothers was so bizarre that I was disappointed by how little time was spent exploring why she did it when she had so many other options available to her. It was a pattern that repeated itself after she was sent to the school and began getting to know the other mothers there. The audience learned the reasons why everyone had ended up there, but we really didn’t’ get to know the characters well as individuals. Nearly their entire identities were swallowed up by what they did, why that made them terrible mothers, and how they were learning to be better. I did wonder if this might have been purposefully written this way to make a point about how women are expected to subsume all of their desires, hopes, and dreams to parenthood, With that being said, text never really made that clear, and I struggled to emotionally connect with the characters because of how tricky it was to get to know them as individuals.

I was impressed by the attention the author paid to how race, social class, sex, mental health, and other factors affected how parents were judged in this universe. Not only were the rules much less stringent for folks who were white, male, able-bodied, and wealthy, breaking them had far fewer negative consequences as well. This book did a wonderful job of exploring the nuances of intersectionality and showing how the system set some people up for success and others for failure from day one. If it had continued to focus on this instead of veering off into other directions, I would have gone with a much higher rating.

It was also confusing to me to see how many different types of mothers were sent to the same school. Some of them were found guilty of things that weren’t even examples of abusive or neglectful parenting. They could easily be explained away as cultural or parenting philosophy differences. Other parents were an entirely different story, though, and I actually ended up agreeing with the authorities that those specific mothers were too dangerous to currently have custody of their children due to issues like serious physical abuse. This isn’t to say I necessarily thought they should lose custody permanently, only that it was really odd to me to group the small number of them who needed extensive help in with parents who left dirty dishes in their sinks or let their children walk a few blocks away to the local library. While i understood the point the author was making about the grossly unfair expectations society places on mothers that is often poisoned by racism, classism, sexism, and other forms of prejudice, it simply didn’t make sense to me from a storytelling perspective to group everyone together like this. Surely the authorities should have been smarter than that and at least assigned characters to different classrooms or treatment modules based on the severity of their convictions.

The ending was well written. It was the logical outcome of everything Frida had experienced and learned during her year at the School for Good Mothers. I enjoyed looking back and taking note of the foreshadowing that had been shared earlier, too. The author struck a nice balance between hinting at what was to come to the audience without giving us too many clues about everything she had up her sleeves. A sequel would be nice, but I also felt satisfied by how the main storylines were resolved and what probably happened to the characters after the end of the last scene.

The School for Good Mothers was a thought-provoking read.

Top Ten Tuesday: LGBT+ Book Quotes

Hosted by That Artsy Reader Girl

Pride month is just around the corner. Since all in-person events for Toronto’s Pride events have been cancelled again this year thanks to the Covid-19 pandemic, I decided to start the celebration a little early here instead. May it be safe for us to celebrate in person next year!

 

“The single best thing about coming out of the closet is that nobody can insult you by telling you what you’ve just told them.”
Rachel Maddow

 

“Race, gender, religion, sexuality, we are all people and that’s it. We’re all people. We’re all equal.”
Connor Franta

 

“But this is your life, and it will stretch out before you, and you are the only person who can make it whatever you want it to be.”
Christina Lauren, Autoboyography

 

“Rainbows are gay space lasers. That’s why they’re not straight.”
Oliver Markus Malloy, Introvert Comics: Inside The Mind of an Introvert

 

“Being different is what makes us fun, remember?”
Maulik Pancholy, The Best at It

White piece of cloth that has a rainbow and the phrase "love is love" painted on it.

 

“But you can have more than one family. You can choose your family.”
Phil Stamper, As Far As You’ll Take Me

 

“She’s happy with who she is. Maybe it’s not the heteronormative dream that she grew up wishing for, but… knowing who you are and loving yourself is so much better than that, I think.”
Alice Oseman, Loveless

 

“We all have our own unique place in the infinite gender universe.”
Ashley Mardell, The ABC’s of LGBT+

 

“The joy of discovery is one of the biggest pleasures you’ll ever know.”
Samra Habib, We Have Always Been Here: A Queer Muslim Memoir

 

“In conversation with one of his friends, the openly gay Dr. William Hirsch, Fred Rogers himself concluded that if sexuality was measured on a scale of one to ten: ‘Well, you know, I must be right smack in the middle. Because I have found women attractive, and I have found men attractive.”
Maxwell King, The Good Neighbor: The Life and Work of Fred Rogers

In Pursuit of Justice: A Review of The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Book cover for The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale by T J Therien. Image on cover is of an arrow with a green background. Title:The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale

Author: T J Therien

Publisher: Self-Published

Publication Date: May 30, 2019

Genres: Young Adult, Fantasy, Historical

Length: 83 pages

Source: I received a free copy from the author.

Rating: 3 Stars

Blurb:

The story as you know it is a lie. Discover the true origins of the Robin Hood legend in this fast paced Novella that takes our titular character back to the roots of the early ballads.

Review:

Content warning: violence, murder, and attempted rape. I will not be discussing these things in my review.

Everyone deserves justice.

I appreciated how courageous many of the characters were, especially when it came to fourteen-year-old Robyn and Wilma, the woman who saved her from a pretty dangerous situation in one of the earliest chapters. The era they lived in definitely wasn’t a kind one for women or anyone living on the margins of society for reasons I’ll leave up to other readers to discover for themselves. It was cool to see them look out for one another in an environment where drawing attention to oneself could have so many negative repercussions.

This story had a large cast of characters that I had trouble keeping track of. There simply wasn’t enough room for me to get to know everyone well enough to immediately know who they were and how they were connected to everyone else when they popped up again after not being part of the plot for a while. It would have been nice to focus on a smaller number of folks and maybe save the rest for a sequel, if such a thing is in the works.

Some of my favorite scenes were the ones showing how Robyn, Wilma, and the other people who met up with them worked together to solve problems that seemed insurmountable. These weren’t the types of folks who the money or social connections to pull strings behind the scenes. Every bit of justice they hoped to seek would only come about through cooperation, a ton of hard work, and maybe a little luck as well. Those are exactly the sort of heroes I enjoy reading about.

Anyone who loves the original Robin Hood tales should check out The Gest of Robyn Hode & Little Joan According to Alaina of Dale.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Machine of Loving Grace

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter.

Last winter I discovered the Better Worlds series, a science fiction anthology of short stories and films about hope that was published at The Verge two years ago. This is the tenth story from this anthology I’ve covered here, and I will eventually blog about all of them.

Machine of Loving Grace

Content warning: sexual harassment, cyber bullying, and sexism. I will be discussing these things in my review.

A close-up photo of a circuit board. Katherine Cross’ Machine of Loving Grace showed what happened when an AI designed to moderate video games took on a life of its own.

The content warning for this short story might make some potential readers pause. These are some pretty heavy topics, and they’re things that women, non-binary people, and members of the LGBT+ community can often be inundated with online.

With that being said, I encourage everyone who has the emotional bandwidth for it to dive into this tale. Ami, the AI mentioned earlier, was created to permanently end this abusive behaviour in video games. Imagine being able to play any video game you wish without ever needing to worry about other players mistreating you in these ways!

That idea was so remarkable that I had to find out how Ami’s reaction to these interactions evolved over time. She was programmed to be highly empathetic, so reading abusive chat logs was as disturbing for her as it would be for you or I to read them.

The cool thing about the world building in general was how realistic it felt. While we don’t yet live in a world where AI is capable of moderating video games so precisely, this sure seemed like something that we could all live to see happen. The explanations of how she was created and why Phoebe, the programmer in charge of her, was so surprised by Ami’s actions were well done.

So, too, were the reactions of the higher-ups at Rhombus, the company that employed Phoebe, when they realized how Ami was reacting to a problem that has been around since the Internet was in its infancy.

There are so many things I want to say about later plot twists in relation to the differences between how they reacted to online harassment and what Ami thought should be done about it. This truly is something that all of you should experience for yourselves, especially if you’ve ever been in a situation where someone told you to be patient or to not overreact to something that you knew was wrong and never should have been permitted.

Sometimes hope thrives in places you might be least likely to expect it, and that’s beautiful.

Hopeful Science Fiction: Skin City

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Earlier this year I discovered… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: St. Juju

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. A few months ago, I… Read More

Safe Haven: A Review of Everfair

Title: Everfair Author: Nisi Shawl Publisher: Tor Books Publication Date: 2016 Genres: Fantasy, Alternate History, Steampunk Length: 384 pages Source: I borrowed it from the library. Rating: 3 stars Blurb: From noted short story writer Nisi Shawl comes a brilliant alternate-history novel set in the Belgian Congo. What if the African natives developed steam power… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: Online Reunion

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Recently, I discovered the Better… Read More

Hopeful Science Fiction: A Theory of Flight

Click on the tag “hope” at this bottom of this post to read about all of my suggestions for hopeful science fiction. If you have recommendations for future instalments of this series, I’d sure like to hear them. Leave a comment below or send me message about it on Twitter. Recently, I discovered the Better… Read More