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review 2016-06-20 01:53
The Cybernetic Tea Shop by Meredith Katz
The Cybernetic Tea Shop - Meredith Katz

Clara is a drifter whose ability to repair Raises, Robotic Artificially Intelligent Synthetic Entities (sentient robots with animal forms), means that she can find work nearly everywhere she goes. When Clara visits the Cybernetic Tea Shop on the advice of her newest boss, she's shocked to see that the owner is a 278-year-old android named Sal. It has long been illegal to create sapient androids, and Sal is one of the few remaining models built prior to the law being passed. Although her owner died a long time ago, Sal does her best to see out the woman's dream: keeping the Cybernetic Tea Shop open for 300 years.

This was a very gentle and quiet story, primarily focused on the characters' emotions. Clara had to deal with the pain of realizing that she was falling for someone whose way of life didn't mesh with hers – she couldn't rid herself of her desire to move to new places, and Sal was completely bound to the tea shop and her memories of her original owner. Meanwhile, the only thing keeping Sal going was the tea shop. At the same time, she suspected she couldn't keep it open for another 22 years. There weren't enough customers, vandalism from anti-android groups was a drain on her finances, and her body and software were beginning to fail her in ways that she couldn't afford to get fixed.

But don't worry, there was a happy ending! I'm still not sure how I feel about certain aspects of it – I can't say too much without including spoilers, but it felt a little unbalanced. Still, I'm glad that Clara and Sal got a happy ending. I enjoyed their deepening friendship and romance, and Sal was so lonely and alone that it was nice to read about her meeting someone who liked being around her and wanted to help her, no strings attached.

This was a wonderfully sweet story, but it wasn't perfect. The first scene, in which Clara decided to move to Seattle, was odd and did nothing more than establish her drifter nature and give readers a little of her history. If that scene had been removed and the important information incorporated into the rest of the text more, Clara and Sal could have met earlier. As it was, they met halfway through the story, and I was left wishing that Katz had spent a little more time demonstrating Sal's growing trust in Clara.

This was a little too short to be completely satisfying, the writing had a few clumsy moments, and the world-building was a little off (the decision to outlaw sapient androids was made because it was considered unethical to own them, but the anti-android groups didn't appear to be very concerned with the ethics of committing hate crimes against them). Still, I enjoyed it. I liked all the characters, Clara's hummingbird Raise was fun, and it's one of the few examples I've found of romance starring an asexual character (Clara) that isn't ham-handed about the character's asexuality.

 

Rating Note:

 

If I think about this one too hard, it seems more like a 3.5-star story. On a more emotional level, 4 stars feels right. I went with 4 stars.

 

(Original review, including read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2015-07-14 07:37
The Alpha and His Ace by Ana J. Phoenix
The Alpha and His Ace - Ana J. Phoenix

Brandon is the alpha of his werewolf pack, but lately he's had trouble holding onto their respect. Everyone knows a good leader needs a mate by his side (don't look at me, I'm just writing what the story said), and Brandon still hasn't managed to find his. Since going to gay bars doesn't seem to be cutting it, he decides to try regular bars, too. Almost immediately he's hit on by a very drunk woman named Ruby. He's not interested, but it's also pretty clear that she's drunk enough to get herself into trouble, so he helps her get back to her apartment only to discover that her roommate, Aidan, is his mate. Just one problem: Aidan is asexual. Brandon's not about to run away, but, as he learns more about asexuality, he wonders if his mate will ever be able to become a werewolf, a process that would involve having sex.

This was apparently based on a prompt from someone in a Goodreads group. If the picture I saw was what the story was based on, it's a good thing it wasn't included with this e-book file, since I'm reasonably certain it's someone's Wolf's Rain fan art.


Okay, moving on. This story did not get off to the best start, and I was worried it would turn out to be completely awful. Although it did improve, I still had lots of issues with it.

I disliked that the world rules were set up so that sex was required for someone to be turned into a werewolf. What aspect of sex was it that turned someone into a werewolf? Was it a magical thing tied to, say, orgasms? Or was it more of a sexually transmitted disease? Was it transmitted via semen or blood? None of this was mentioned, probably because exploring those world rules too deeply would have meant admitting that maybe some activity other than penetrative sex could have done the job just as easily.

The asexuality aspect was handled clumsily, but better than I'd feared. I'd have preferred it if the author had chosen a less clunky way to communicate information about asexuality than having Brandon consult the AVEN website a few times. On the plus side, asexuality was not presented as a “one size fits all” thing, and the werewolf soulmate bond did not “cure” Aidan of his asexuality. Brandon made some assumptions and screwed up a bit, and it was emphasized that, for his and Aidan's relationship to work, they had to be open with each other.

As I was reading this story, I had an epiphany: in the process of exploring an asexual relationship, this story was not saying very good things about sexual relationships, or at least Brandon's views on them. Sexual attraction doesn't negate the need for things like good communication, dating, and getting to know each other, but you wouldn't know it from the way Brandon thought. Although he'd slept with tons of guys, he'd never dated anyone and hadn't thought he'd ever need to use romantic words or gestures. Not because he didn't think he'd ever find his mate, but because he just didn't think all of that was necessary. I had the feeling that, had Aidan not been asexual, Brandon would have expected the two of them to have sex within 5 minutes of meeting each other.

I kept waiting for Brandon to realize that, not only did he not know Aidan very well, he hadn't yet made much of an effort to change that. Every time he met Aidan, he learned something new – that he had a little sister, taught fencing, and owned a motorbike. Rather than slow down and take the time to learn more, Brandon just fretted over how to convince Aidan to like him when he wasn't going to be sexually attracted to him, and worried that he wasn't going to be able to keep his own desire in check. It was incredibly frustrating. I mean, it wasn't like he had some kind of deadline. Brandon struck me as being both impatient and oversexed.

I've read far worse asexual romance stories than this, but that still doesn't mean this was very good. The world-building was sketchy at best, I couldn't fathom how someone like Brandon could be pack leader, and Aidan's reaction to Brandon suddenly shapeshifting in front of him was unbelievably chill. Also, Brandon spent more time worrying about Aidan's asexuality than really getting to know him as a person, and the romance suffered as a result. There was no real feeling of intimacy and closeness between the two of them. Even the cake Brandon brought Aidan was more a thing inspired by AVEN forum posts than by him actually getting to know Aidan.

If I pick up the sequel, My Alpha and His Cake, it'll be because it's cheap and I'm a completist.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-12-30 15:37
Wings of Destruction by Victoria Zagar
Wings of Destruction - Victoria Zagar

I bought this, after considerable internal debate, because it was tagged “asexual romance.” The reasons why it took me a while to finally hit the “buy” button included reviews that said it wasn't very good, its price-to-word count ratio (it cost about twice what I would normally be willing to pay for something this long), and angels (I don't read much angel fiction).

Anyway, this novella takes place an indeterminate amount of time in the future. An economic collapse plunged the world into chaos, and now everyone is either affiliated with a gang or living in fear of the gangs. If you're with one of the gangs, you're either a sex slave or you have a mate and are marginally protected. Martin, an asexual man, is scared and depressed. He's just been left by his latest mate – every one of them ends up wanting more from him than he's willing to give. Seeing no other acceptable options, he decides to kill himself by jumping off Spire Rock. He is saved by the angel Anael, who has been sent to evaluate humans and determine whether it would be best to destroy everything with Black Rain, thereby wiping the slate clean for God's next new world. The angel decides that Martin will be his guide as he makes his final decision.

I'll start with the good. I was interested enough in the story to see where the author was going to go with all of this, so the 59 pages weren't as much of a slog as I'd feared they would be. Also, it was nice that both the asexual character (Martin) and the transgender character (that one's a spoiler) got happy endings.

Now for the bad. According to the copyright page, this had two editors. I wouldn't be surprised to learn that they checked for typos and did little else. This needed a lot more work than that. There were phrases and word choices that needed tweaking, and world details and character interactions would have benefited from someone going over it all and asking “Does this make sense? Is any of it contradictory?”

Some examples:

“A tormented expression and the rings around his sad, blue eyes had made him look older than he actually was.” (9)

I'm pretty sure the author actually meant “circles under his eyes” rather than “rings around his eyes.”

“Matching red uniforms finished their costumes, a red that signified the color of the Scrapers, the gang that ruled these parts.” (13)

This is redundant, as we're told twice that their uniforms are red. Also, red doesn't signify a color, it is a color.

As far as the world went, I have no clue how it was able to function. George R.R. Martin's Westeros is less brutal than this place – neither adults nor children were safe from being turned into sex slaves by the gangs, and it didn't seem like anyone did anything but hide (if you weren't in a gang), fight, or rape. How was everyone staying fed? Readers were told that the gas had run out long ago, so I wouldn't think there'd be much canned food left, but at the same time no one seemed to be producing any new food. Where were the gardens, the livestock, and the people to take care of it all? Oh, and where did the gangs get all those bullets? They used them like they were playing a video game with unlimited ammo.

Another thing the author didn't think through very well was time. Readers were told that God slept on the Sabbath, “one day in Heaven that spanned a thousand years in Earth time" (6). However, later on we saw characters in Heaven looking in on people on Earth, 25 years later in Earth time. We were told that the people in Heaven had had “enough time to build a life" (56). Now, math is not my strong suit, but even I know that those numbers don't work out. The characters in Heaven got only a tiny fraction of a day together while those 25 years sped by on Earth.

Now I suppose I should talk about the whole “asexual romance” aspect. Anael and Martin's love for each other was very sudden and bland. I think Martin fell for Anael primarily because Anael didn't have sex organs and was therefore the “safest” romantic partner possible. Anael fell for Martin because Martin saved him, and also maybe because he was “pure.”

This touches on something that made me a little uncomfortable. It felt like readers were supposed to see Martin's asexuality as making him better and purer than others. Sexual feelings were dirty and corrupting. I also didn't like the mention of Martin having been raped “twenty-or-so years ago,” because that came a little too close to indicating that he was asexual because he was raped.

Zagar's efforts to write Martin as an asexual person sometimes felt like being smacked in the face with the exact opposite. For example, here is Martin noticing Anael's appearance: “For a non-sexual being, he was the perfect sculpture of a man. Martin felt the stirring of a yearning that had nothing to do with sexual hunger.” (15) And here's one I cut short to avoid spoilers, although I'll mention that it made my skin crawl in context: “His tender hands moved the sponge over Anael’s body without the slightest hint of wanton desire . . .” (22) By repeatedly telling readers there was nothing sexual about his actions, Zagar managed to make it seem like Martin was thinking about sex all the time.

There are a lot of other things I could write about, like the utter lack of details about characters' lives (What were the names of Martin's mates? No wonder they all left him, if he never bothered to talk to them like they were people) and my discomfort with the magical changes everyone needed to go through in order to be happy, but this review is already long enough. All in all, while I'm glad I wasn't expecting much, I still feel a bit disappointed. The story did manage to hold my interest, but the writing and world-building needed lots of work. I can't see myself ever recommending this to anyone.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2014-02-16 01:00
Quicksilver by R.J. Anderson
Quicksilver - R.J. Anderson

I put this on my TBR list after learning that its heroine was explicitly stated to be asexual. It was recommended to me again after I wrote in a previous review that I was looking for books with asexual romance in them. The recommendation came with a warning that it would be a good idea to read Anderson's Ultraviolet first. Now that I've read both books, I can say that I agree with this. Not only does Quicksilver contain many spoilers for events in Ultraviolet, a lot of it would probably confuse those who hadn't read Ultraviolet first.

In several ways, I consider this book to be better than the first. It felt smoother overall, although I wish the action had been spread out a little more. The story was fairly slow-paced until the end, when, bam, Tori's biggest enemies were dealt with in a flurry of activity.

As far as protagonists went, I liked Tori better than Alison. Although Tori viewed her people skills as artificial, I don't think she gave herself enough credit. She worried about others, perhaps even more than she worried about herself. She empathized with people and tried to take their feelings into account. Heck, she even managed to forgive Sebastian for doing things that few would have blamed her for being angry about. If anything, she forgave others and put others' needs before her own almost too much.

The amount of empathy Tori had for Alison bugged me, mostly because it made me remember how little empathy Alison had for anybody, much less Tori, in the first book. Granted, there was a lot Alison didn't know about Tori until the end of Ultraviolet, but it wasn't just Tori – Alison rarely thought about or asked about anybody but herself. Some readers may be happy to learn that Alison and Sebastian make a reappearance in Quicksilver, but I found that I was not particularly excited to see either of them again. I especially wasn't fond of another round of Alison and Sebastian's relationship angst. Their romance did not appeal to me any more in this book than it did in the first.

Tori and Milo worked better for me. For one thing, they didn't start off with lots of points against them: they were closer to being the same age than Sebastian and Alison, and there wasn't a huge power difference between them. Both of them were worried about being honest with their parents. Milo, for example, wanted to become a gym teacher but knew that everyone in his family expected him to become a doctor. As far as Milo knew, Tori's secret was that she wanted to visit her local makerspace and create the amazing things she'd so far only been able to dream about, while her parents wanted her to wait until college so that her engineering skills hopefully wouldn't stand out quite so much.

Tori was actually hiding a bit more than that. Neither her parents nor Milo knew that she was actually an alien, and that she lived in fear of being rejected by those she loved if the truth came out.

I liked that the book addressed, at least a little, the fear that Tori's parents' “Our Kind of People” versus “Those People” mentality inspired in her. If Tori's parents had trouble accepting that she had a Korean-Canadian boyfriend, what would they think once they learned that she wasn't even human? They had gone through so much, given up so much, just to keep her safe. Would this one last bit of information be too much for them and cause them to finally reject her too? I could understand and sympathize with those kinds of fears, even as I wished for Tori to tell someone in her life the full truth about herself.

Anyway, back to Milo. Milo was a good guy. He didn't really have to get involved with Tori in the first place. In fact, staying close to her meant putting himself, and possibly his family, in danger. He was attracted to Tori, but he didn't storm off when she confessed to him that she was asexual. When they became closer, he didn't try to force their relationship into becoming something more sexual. There was none of that “well, maybe you just haven't been with the right guy (i.e. me).” He kept his hands to himself, and both Tori and I appreciated that. My biggest complaint about him was that he was kind of boringly perfect and became less and less interesting as the book progressed.

Then came the end of the book, when Tori

decided to kiss Milo. I wasn't entirely comfortable with this. It wasn't so much the kiss itself as when the kiss happened. Having it happen at the end of this book gave the characters no time to explore what that meant and what sorts of expectations they had for their relationship. Instead of making me feel warm and fuzzy, that kiss made me worry that Tori was promising more than she was willing to give and that they'd both end up hurt.

(spoiler show)


All in all, Quicksilver probably isn't something I'll ever reread, but I did like it. If Anderson ever writes a third book in this series, I plan to read it.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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review 2013-07-11 21:44
Fire & Ice by Kate Aaron
Fire & Ice - Kate Aaron

That's it, I'm done with this series. I have no plans to buy Storm & Strike, the book after this one. I bought the first three works all at once because they were cheap and because the second two were tagged “asexual,” which intrigued me. Unfortunately, this was one of those times where taking a risk did not work out for me. I had some of the same problems with Fire & Ice that I had with the first two works in the series.

I disliked Ash at least as much in this story as I did in Blood & Ash. He was childish, selfish, immature, and never thought things through. The only reason I could think of to explain why Azrael continued to stay with him was the sex, and I couldn't believe that their relationship would last very long.

I also came to dislike Skye. He started off all right, at least until he fell in love with Fenton. Then, suddenly, he morphed into a great big ball of lust. He knew from the start that Fenton was asexual – Fenton loved Skye but would never be interested in having sex with him. When Skye began feeling sexually attracted to Fenton, Fenton offered to help out with that (heh) but continued to be uninterested in being on the receiving end of any sexual activities. This drove Skye practically crazy because a big part of him couldn't believe in love unless that love was displayed in a sexual way by both parties. His all-consuming lustful feelings culminated in an OMG ending that made me feel bad for Fenton in so many ways.

Ash and Skye were so focused on their relationships that I often had a hard time remembering the overarching storyline. The Realm was in danger of being invaded and taken over by witches. All its people faced the possibility of being evicted from a land they'd lived in for generations. However, since Ash was selfish and didn't personally care about the fate of the Realm, he was far more interested in devoting all his time and energy to changing his people's anti-homosexuality law. Yes, both things were important, but this was like someone realizing that their house was on fire and that poison had been pumped into their garden for months and choosing to focus all their attention on dealing with the poison. What good is saving the garden if you don't have a house anymore? Or worse, what if the fire gets your garden, too? What if the witches took over the Realm, decided they weren't satisfied with just evicting the fae, and killed them all instead?

Skye was a little more focused than Ash, but like I said earlier, his relationship with Fenton turned him into a giant ball of lust. Thinking about anything other than what was going on in his pants took some effort. And he wasn't always successful at it.

I did not always like what this book (or at least the characters in this book) had to say about relationships. For example, when a Were pack assumes that he and Fenton are sleeping together, Skye has this thought:

-----

“People look at you differently when you’re in a relationship: it’s like you’ve passed some secret test, validated yourself as a person. Everyone understands love and respects it. To have it is to inspire good feeling in others.” (40.5%)
-----

Which is stupid, because it assumes that all relationships are given equal weight. We already know that Skye's own people don't view homosexual relationships as being on the same level as heterosexual ones, because people in homosexual relationships are put to death. Also, it's just plain insulting when you consider that 1) not everyone is in a relationship, 2) some people choose not be in relationships, and 3) some relationships are abusive and are therefore not good. And yet Skye is all, “Hurray, I have the super-special badge of honor! I feel great, because everyone can see it.”

Then there's the issue of relationships and sex. Remember, I started this series primarily because I was interested in seeing how it would deal with an asexual relationship. Okay, so Skye and Fenton's relationship was a bit rocky. Balancing a sexual person's needs with an asexual person's needs isn't necessarily easy, especially if one half of the couple (Skye) refuses to sit down and talk about his needs so that problems can be worked out. What bothered me, though, was a discussion Azrael and Ash had about the place of sex in relationships, which, in my opinion, spat on the idea of asexual relationships.

Azrael and Ash are arguing because they haven't been having sex or even touching each other much lately: Ash feels too guilty. He can be with his lover while so many others are killed for the same thing. At one point, Azrael says:

-----

"'We have more than sex binding us—much more—but without sex, our relationship loses everything that makes it special to us.' 

'So you don't want me if you can't sleep with me?' Ash asked coldly.

 'Of course I do. I want you too much to not sleep with you. I don't want you as a friend—I have dozens of those. I want you as my lover; my only lover.'" (65.5%) 
-----

So, in Azrael's words, without sex all you have is friendship. What does that say about Fenton's feelings? This is just part of the reason why I would not recommend this book or what I've read of this series so far to anyone looking for positively-presented asexual romantic relationships.

I'll end with this: the world-building. The law against homosexuality made absolutely no sense to me, no matter how many characters tried to explain it. The population of fae women was shrinking rapidly, because nearly every fae woman died after giving birth to only one child. Ash's mother was a rare exception. The ratio of men to women must have been huge. I suppose I could have understood a law against lesbian couples (although even this assumes that sex can only happen between couples), but why outlaw gay couples?

All in all, this book and this series as a whole did not work for me. The bones of the story were relatively interesting, but they were obscured by Ash and Skye's relationship-related freakouts. Aaron's attempt to include an asexual relationship was nice but ultimately fell flat for me. I enjoyed the scene in which a frazzled Fenton tried to shop for Skye, his first living house-guest since he was turned into a vampire – it was adorable and funny – but that was pretty much it.

 

(Original review, with read-alikes and watch-alikes, posted on A Library Girl's Familiar Diversions.)

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