Tuesday, June 18, 2019

STRANGE GRACE by Trisha Gratton

Rating: A gorgeously bejeweled dagger and a milkshake with three straws

Highlight of note: This is the story of a boy and the girl he loves. And the boy they both love. Believe it or not, this is only the second novel I have ever come across that portrays a polyamorous triad in a positive light. (Feel free to recommend others!)

Will you read more by this author? Absolutely. Although I don't think the others are poly books.

We start off with a town where everything is idyllic. The weather is perfect for crops, wounds heal overnight, no one ever gets sick, and all pregnancies go well. There's a price for this, of course. Every seven years a young man is sent into the forest and only occasionally does he survive meeting with the demon therein.

It's a trope I've seen before, an ancient story archetype, although I'm stumped on remembering the name for it.

The curse gets triggered earlier than expected. A horse is sick, there's a blight in the wheat field, and a child is born premature. Sure enough, the blood tree turns read to signal it's time for a new sacrifice. Three teens now come together to work out why the sacrifice is being called for early and to try to save the boy who "wins" the right to enter the forest under the full moon.

I'm gonna get a tad spoilery now, so you might want to skip the rest and just go read this book. The writing is almost lyrical, the plot is captivating, the characters are detailed, and although it's a little on the dark side, the gore and violence are actually pretty lowkey.

Okay.... Spoilery talk in...


Our leads are the daughter of the local witch, the boy so wonderful everyone has been certain he will be the next sacrifice for years, and an angry hunter who was raised as a girl for the first years of his life because his mother didn't want him in the running for death-by-demon. The cover copy didn't present this as a romance, but it very much is. It's a love triangle, but an actual triangle and not the v's people call love triangles. My first hint that this was more than it seemed was when Rhun thinks of Mairwyn and describes her as "the person he loves who he is allowed to love." My eyes went wide and I may have shrieked happily over the implication that he loved more than one person and that's there's something others consider unsuitable about the other one. It's obvious from soon thereafter that Mairwyn knows her boyfriend is into their mutual friend and is absolutely cool with it, perhaps because she also loves the other object of his affections.

I was scared for a little that this was going to be a "gay boy tries to force himself to love a girl because he's scared of being out in a middle ages society and winds up hurting people" story, but was very happy to be wrong about that. He absolutely does love and is attracted to Mairwyn. He just also loves and is attracted to Arthur.

I'm not going to tell you if the story goes so far as to allow all of them to survive and live together happily ever after, but I did want to confirm that this is a positive polyamory novel and I will say I found their end state quite satisfactory.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.




5% Mairwen is the person Rhun loves who he is allowed to love. So he loves someone else he's not allowed to love? That's interesting. I wonder if it's the other boy in their group.

6% Arthur doesnt know if he's in love with Mairwen or if he wants to set her on fire. Lol.

6% Yeah, Rhun and Arthur definitely have a romantic history

10% The Lord answers his own door? Curious. Also, he seems strangely attached to Mairwen.

15% Mairwen refuses to love Arthur because of Rhun... If this doesn't turn out to be a triad romance, it's missed an excellent chance at polyamorous representation.

27% Mairwen throws herself at Rhun and he doesnt want to have sex because Arthur isn't there. And says he wouldn't want Arthur without her. 

37% With all the emphasis on life, death, and the breath between, it makes a lot of sense for all three of our triad to go into the wood to rework the magic.

41% The final hour already? They're not spending nearly as many words in the forest as I'd figured they would. I wonder what aftermath the second half of the book.

42% The demon ties a boy to the tree.... But then both the boys who went in come out. Followed by Mair, who isn't alone. Who did she bring out? A previous Saint? The demon? The original Grace witch?

59% I love the image of the three of them holding hands in a circle.

60% Is the lord really getting younger or was that Rhun's perception? It seems someone else had commented recently in him seeming young even before the group went into the forest.

62% Mair is returning to the forest without any of the boys? That doesn't seem wise.

63% The old god left and then the boys started being sacrificed... I'm wondering where the Lord of the valley fits into all of this. Could he be descended from (or actually) the original forest god?

65% All this with Mair kissing the saint/devil makes me wonder if this is a triad story or a wider polyamorous tale.

66% It's interesting that the first ordeal seems to have made Arthur more mellow like Rhun and Rhun more tense and angry like Arthur. The boys have both described Mair as having grown into her true self but I wonder if they have as well.

68% I don't know why this just hit me, but shouldn't Mair have grandparents? Why no mention of them? Especially her maternal grandmother, who would have been a Grace Witch... How old is her mother?

73% The triad sleeping together scene is really sweet.

77% Mair's mom is bi. Interesting. I still want to know why her parents aren't around. Is she older than indicated? She almost has to be since people don't die young here.

77% Mairwen's father is in the door? HE'S NOT DEAD?! Hetty screamed... Is he the true devil or the Saint we thought was her father?

80% I'm worried about all these evil forest creatures merrily traipsing after Arthur as he goes to kill the tree...

82% And the Lord is missing one scene after the devil says he's back in the forest...

83% Yep, the Lord is the devil. And Mair's father, judging by the portrait of her as a girl in his house and how fond of her he's always seemed.

99% A lovely ending! Mairwen is a goddess. Or a demon, depending on how you look at it. And our triad is happy and together. Yay!

Thursday, June 13, 2019

HOT DOG GIRLl by Jennifer Dugan

Rating: A glittery carousel horse

Highlight of note: The main character is a bisexual in a hotdog costume at a low-end theme park. What more hook do you need?

Will you read more by this author? Probably. Her earlier works are comics and have an odder vibe (they apparently start with the rather cliched dream-lover-is-real concept) but are still LGBTQ (the lover the MC shares dreams with is nonbinary) and I liked her style, so I'm willing to check them out when I get time. I put them on my "Want to Read" shelf on Goodreads.

If you look at the cover of this book, it was obviously something I would have been willing to read as soon as I saw it. I mean, that image! Poor girl in the hot dog suit! I needed to know more!

I'm pretty sure I saw this book on an LGBTQ recomendations list, but I'd forgotten that by the time I actually got to read it. Consequently, while I knew the best friend character was sapphic, I didn't realize the main character was bi until about a quarter of the way through. Up til then she'd been pretty focused on the crush she had on the diving pirate guy who was dating the park Princess, only mentioning exes and never discussing names or using pronouns for them. (We'll ignore for a second what it says that a panromantic such as myself was assuming heterosexuality in a character...)

This book seems like it would be predictable, but I was actually uncertain who Hot Dog Girl was going to end up with for much of the story. I assumed at first that the crush would be an ass and there was another love interest, but when he turned out to be a great guy, I thought maybe it was just a "hooking up with your crush" book and the main conflict was from other aspects of growing up and dealing with impermanence. But then I learned the MC was bi and suddenly started wondering about some of the sapphic best friend's attitudes, especially when a "Let's fake date to make him jealous!" plot was hatched about a third of the way in. Was this a "Grabbing your crush" book after all or a "hooking up with you best friend / ending up with the person you fake date" book? It really could have gone either way for most of the story. I won't tell you which one it is, but I will tell you I was absolutely happy with the ending. The couple goes into a happy zone and the person Hot Dog Girl doesn't end up with is also in a pretty good place.

The book is mostly about changes and how to accept them. This is brought about by the closing of the amusement park. The teen workers are upset, especially our main character, who has abandonment issues thanks to her mom leaving when she was young and who consequently views the park as a more stable place than her home. She launches into a drive to save the place, dragging the other characters along with her enthusiasm even though the park owner isn't interested in keeping the place open no matter how much money she raises.

The main character is sometimes clueless and sometimes rash, but she's convincing as a teenager whose passions sometimes kick in before her logic. The rest of the cast is likewise realistic, relatable, and likeable.

Overall, this is a fun book that leaves the reader with a happy fuzzy feeling, so I highly recommend it to those who like contemporary YA romances.


Below you'll find the notes I took as I read. Clearly, they contain major spoilers.




6% I'm not sure I'm sold on Eloise's obsession with a guy who's into someone else, but I'm loving that his car broke down in the rain and she rescued him.

9% A tragic backstory involving the MC's mother. Sigh.

19% Heat stroke during a job that would be a nightmare for me. I feel much sympathy.

25% Everyone is doofy, straight, or in love with her friend? Is Lou into girls? The only person she's named herself as being interested in is the one guy, but she could totally be bi...

27% Hmm. Lou took a class because a girl she liked was in it. I guess she is bi.

30% Oh, dear. So Lou's fake dating her best friend to make a guy jealous. And presumably the bff is going to go along with it to give her an excuse not to date the girl she went out with last night? Who will probably be all hurt but also confused because Lou's the one who set them up.

31% I'm really happy bff isn't wanting to go along with this horrible (and cliched) idea. Although I'm kinda starting to hope she's pissed because she'd rather date Lou for real... And Lou has repeatedly described Seeley as attractive... So BFF could actually be the love interest...

41% Yeah, I don't know there's a way to convince a guy to keep a business he doesn't want going. They could maybe become a co-op? But who would run it? I don't see things going well in the save-the-park arc.

41% Whoa. The yelling at her dad here is so seriously uncool. At least she figured that out as soon as she'd said the hateful things.

43% Yeah, I think the tension with Seeley could be romantic...

47% Elouise still hasn't asked Mr P WHY he's closing the park...

49% I can't help but think that a GoFundMe to help Mr P would do better if we had any idea what his actual problem is...

58% I can see how all of Seeley's talk that people see and value Eloise could be seen as just being a friend, but it really seems love-interest level of passionate.

59% And we have confirmation that Nick's girlfriend is cheating on him. ... I'm really liking Nick, but I'm not so sure about Lou ending up with him. I really do want her with Seeley.

62% Yeah, I officially feel bad for Ari. The girl he's been into for five years is finally willing to kiss him, but is officially dating someone else. Apparently has something to do with her whackjob mom. So he gets to watch her being all cute with this other guy while not being able to acknowledge him.

68% "If he's your Seeley, you should be with him." Uh huh. Apply that to yourself, please, Louise.

72% Yeah, it's starting to be implausible that Lou doesn't realize she's into Seeley in a girlfriend kind of way.

73% Okay, after a kiss like THAT she's gotta figure this out.

83% And she's finally talking to Mr P! And lo he is closing the park for personal reasons and not because he needs money. And lo the microchip plant would provide more energy to the local economy than his theme park.

90% That's a pretty good apology.

93% I'll take all this making out at the apology being accepted. :)

100% The end

Everything ties up pretty well with lots of cute happiness.