Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin

Review: How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. JemisinHow Long 'til Black Future Month? by N.K. Jemisin
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: science fiction
Pages: 416
Published by Orbit on November 27, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

In these stories, Jemisin sharply examines modern society, infusing magic into the mundane, and drawing deft parallels in the fantasy realms of her imagination. Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded city of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow south must figure out how to save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

My Review:

Have you ever taken a good, hard look at which groups get special “days” or “months” and which ones don’t? There’s no such thing as “WASP month” to celebrate White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestants, because they are considered the so-called “norm” even though they are increasingly not the majority even in the U.S. Especially when you take out the FEMALE WASPs, because Women’s History Month is its own thing, along with holidays and/or months that celebrate non-Anglo origins, non-Christian religions, and, particularly relevant to this book (and this month) non-White people.

It’s a damn good question, isn’t it? Just how long will it be until everyone is celebrated all the damn time, and we don’t need to call out non-male (also non-straight and non-cis) people? How long will it be until Black Future Month?

As the author points out, there has been very little science fiction that includes non-white characters or posits a future as seen from the perspective of people of color. Also relatively few from a female perspective, or a non-cis, non-het perspective, or, again, any perspective other than male WASPs.

I’m not going to include treatments of religion in the future because that’s all over the map in its own way. My favorite treatment of Earth religions in the future is the Babylon 5 episode The Parliament of Dreams. And I really am digressing this time.

I recognize that I’m talking around the book, rather than about the book. I’m trying not to just SQUEE and it’s hard.

On my one hand, the collection is absolutely awesome from beginning to end. I loved every story, and that’s extremely rare for me in a short story collection.

On my other hand, all of the stories in this collection have been previously published. So anyone who follows this author has probably read some if not all of them. But for those looking at this author for the first time after her record-setting accomplishment of winning the Hugo Award for best novel three years in a row (for three books in a trilogy at that), this is a great (and accessible) place to start.

Personally speaking, I loved her Hundred Thousand Kingdoms but bounced hard off The Fifth Season – twice. After reading this collection, I’ll try it again – probably in audio this time.

Escape Rating A+: This is a marvelous collection of this author’s short works, providing a set of wonderfully readable stories, introducing new readers to a terrific, award-winning author (these two things are unfortunately not always synonymous), providing a perspective on the development of said author, a bit of dialog with the history of the genre, and, last but definitely not least, making any reader of SF wonder why the historical perspective of the genre (ironic, I know) has been so narrow-visioned.

A great read from beginning to end!

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long

Review: Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne LongLady Derring Takes a Lover (The Palace of Rogues #1) by Julie Anne Long
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Palace of Rogues #1
Pages: 373
Published by Avon on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A mistress. A mountain of debt. A mysterious wreck of a building.

Delilah Swanpool, Countess of Derring, learns the hard way that her husband, "Dear Dull Derring," is a lot more interesting—and perfidious—dead than alive. It's a devil of an inheritance, but in the grand ruins of the one building Derring left her, are the seeds of her liberation. And she vows never again to place herself at the mercy of a man.

But battle-hardened Captain Tristan Hardy is nothing if not merciless. When the charismatic naval hero tracks a notorious smuggler to a London boarding house known as the Rogue's Palace, seducing the beautiful, blue-blooded proprietress to get his man seems like a small sacrifice.

They both believe love is a myth. But a desire beyond reason threatens to destroy the armor around their hearts. Now a shattering decision looms: Will Tristan betray his own code of honor…or choose a love that might be the truest thing he's ever known?

My Review:

Lady Derring Takes a Lover is absolutely delightful. And it was exactly what I was in the mood for, which made it even better.

In a way, this story reminds me of Someone to Love by Mary Balogh – which is high praise considering just how many “best of the year” lists that book turned up on!

There’s a similarity between the two books because they both effectively begin with Dickens’ Christmas Carol opening, “Marley was dead: to begin with.” Because both stories have their effective beginning with the death of someone else.

To make them resemble each other even more, there’s nothing “dear” about the lately departed in either Someone to Love or Lady Derring Takes a Lover. In both cases, the late and unlamented was a bastard. Not the literal kind, but the kind that leaves disaster in his wake.

In the case of “Dull Derring”, he’s left behind a mountain of unpaid bills, a destitute Countess and an equally destitute mistress. I do not mean destitute in the relative sense of having to scale back their extravagant lifestyles. I mean completely skint. Stony broke. Not having two pence to rub together.

But they do manage to rub along together, surprisingly enough. They shouldn’t have anything to do with one another, the lady and the courtesan. They should hate, or at least resent, each other on sight.

Instead they band together, both broke but not in the least heartbroken, and both completely disillusioned with men and the world that believes their only existence should be in relationship to some man who will expect them to suppress their wants and needs and personalities to flatter his ego while leaving them to clean up his messes.

Delilah Swanpool, the “Lady Derring” of the title, has one and only one asset – along with the jewels that her late husband’s mistress, Angelique Breedlove, advises her to sew into the hems of her dresses on her way out the door. Derring owned one building outright, in his own name, not entailed to his estate and not mortgaged beyond its value. Free and clear.

And located on the Thames docks. Not the most salubrious neighborhood, not even for Mrs. Breedlove, let alone Lady Derring. But it’s what they have. It’s all they have except grit and determination and a strong desire to never be dependent on any man ever again.

Their dream of opening a wholesome boarding house in an area that is much more likely to host a brothel – in fact their building used to BE a brothel – seems naive, and is almost doomed from the outset.

Their determination not to depend on any unreliable man – and in their opinion ALL men are inherently unreliable just by being men – is undermined, at least for Lady Derring, with the advent of Captain Tristan Hardy of the King’s Blockade into their attempt to create a bit of domestic bliss for the assortment of people who find their little out of the way genteel boardinghouse.

Because Derring owned that old building in that odd location for a reason. A reason that put the late unlamented squarely in the sights of the Blockade. Hardy knows that Derring was up to his mortgaged neck in smuggling, and he’ll do anything to roll up the last big smuggling gang in England.

No matter how many heads, or hearts, he has to break in the process. Including his own.

Escape Rating A: This is one of those books that just plain is a great time for the reader. I had a blast. Until 2:30 in the morning, because I was having too much fun to stop before the end.

At the beginning, I said this reminded me of the utterly awesome Someone to Love in the way that it starts. But Delilah also reminded me a bit of one of my favorite heroines, Amelia Peabody Emerson, from Elizabeth Peters’ historical mystery series that begins with Crocodile on the Sandbank. Not in time or place, because the stories are more than half a century apart, but in attitude.

Although it is never stated outright, it’s clear from context that Lady Derring Takes a Lover takes place during the reign of George IV, the former Prince Regent who gave his title to an era. Both Delilah Swanpool and Amelia Peabody know how women are supposed to think and act, the way that they are supposed to behave. And both reject those “supposes” and “oughts” and “shoulds”, albeit under different circumstances. And both find themselves liberated by that rejection. Also both want to be seen for who they are and as they are, and not as society, particularly men, believe they should be.

Also they both discover that they really like sex, even though neither expects to and both have a difficult time discussing the act – but definitely not a difficult time doing it and thoroughly enjoying it. Whether they should or not.

There are three stories going on in Lady Derring Takes a Lover, and they play off each other and intertwine with each other in ways that really worked for me.

There’s the obvious, Lady Derring does indeed take a lover. But the romance between Delilah and Tristan, while filled with sexual tension and coming to a well-deserved happy ending, doesn’t feel like the heart of the book.

The two parts that do feel like that heart are the creation of Delilah and Angelique’s desperate business partnership, along with their surprising creation of their boarding house, and Tristan’s quest to find the smugglers – a quest which reminded me a bit of last week’s The Woman in the Lake, because we again see smugglers not as romantic antiheroes, but as members of organized crime.

I loved the way that Delilah and Angelique end up in business together. They’re desperate and cynical and scared and determined to make a home not just for themselves but for others. They build a strong friendship from a very unlikely beginning and it just works. The way they take in such a disparate bunch of people and weave them into an unlikely family of choice was fun to read, in spite of them also being taken in by two of their boarders.

They have a dream that they make come true – without the help of man to make it all come together.

And while Tristan’s hunt for the smugglers was certainly the stuff of derring-do (pun intended, because the late Lord Derring mostly didn’t) it’s a story that wove itself around everything else – as well as providing the crisis necessary to push for the HEA. And I’m equally glad that the crisis did not involve the heroines in jeopardy, as such crises do entirely too often.

There’s a niggling voice in the back of my head saying that this delightful froth of a book played much too fast and loose with historical accuracy – but I can’t prove that. And I enjoyed it so much that I don’t care nearly as much as I should.

A good time was definitely had by this reader. I can’t wait for the next book in the series, Angel in a Devil’s Arms – which looks to bring about Angelique’s much deserved HEA.

 

Review: The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie

Review: The Raven Tower by Ann LeckieThe Raven Tower by Ann Leckie
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: fantasy
Pages: 432
Published by Orbit on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Gods meddle in the fates of men, men play with the fates of gods, and a pretender must be cast down from the throne in this breathtaking first fantasy novel from Ann Leckie, New York Times bestselling author and winner of the Hugo, Nebula, and Arthur C. Clarke Awards.

For centuries, the kingdom of Iraden has been protected by the god known as the Raven. He watches over his territory from atop a tower in the powerful port of Vastai. His will is enacted through the Raven's Lease, a human ruler chosen by the god himself. His magic is sustained via the blood sacrifice that every Lease must offer. And under the Raven's watch, the city flourishes.

But the power of the Raven is weakening. A usurper has claimed the throne. The kingdom borders are tested by invaders who long for the prosperity that Vastai boasts. And they have made their own alliances with other gods.

It is into this unrest that the warrior Eolo--aide to Mawat, the true Lease--arrives. And in seeking to help Mawat reclaim his city, Eolo discovers that the Raven's Tower holds a secret. Its foundations conceal a dark history that has been waiting to reveal itself...and to set in motion a chain of events that could destroy Iraden forever.

My Review:

Quoth the Raven, “Nevermore” and that’s pretty much how I feel about this book. Quote me as disappointed. I expected so much from this book after the awesome Imperial Radch series – but I did not get it. And damn but I’m sad about that.

The story is, for the most part, a familiar one. The heir to the kingdom returns from service at a contested border. He’s received a message that his father the king is dying, and he needs to be back in the capitol to see him one last time and for the handover of power.

But when he enters the capitol he discovers that nothing is as its supposed to be. His father is missing and his uncle has taken the throne, seemingly peacefully and with the full agreement of the other power brokers in the kingdom.

In spite of the kingdom being more of a theocracy than a kingdom, where the ruler is not called king but is the voice of the local godling for as long as he lives, the story is one that has been done before.

This is where it should get interesting, because we see the story not from the perspective of either the “king” or the “prince” or even the “prince’s” aide, but from the perspective of a local godling who has seen it all.

In fact, the story is being told by the godling, both to the reader in its first-person perspective, and to the aide in the second person. So the godling tells big parts of the story as “I” and other parts as “you”.

One of the things this author is known for is her inventive uses of voice, but this particular variation, while technically interesting, and more than a bit meta, is distancing for the reader, who is not, after all, the aide.

(That would make this self-insert fanfiction and I don’t even want to go there. Or even in the region of there.)

The godling’s first person narrative actually works better than the second-person narrative – at least we know what the godling is thinking and where it’s coming from – even if it is just a big rock and doesn’t move.

But, and it is a very big but, the godling’s perspective begins at the beginning of time in this world and comes to the present day in its own good time. After all, as a big rock, that has sentience but has chosen not to have mobility – it has nothing but time and takes the long view of everything.

The feeling I got as a reader was as if James Michener decided to write fantasy, as many of his longer books (Centennial, Alaska, etc.), start with the rocks, and move through the geologic and prehistoric ages much as The Raven Tower does. I loved his books, but I was always grateful when the first animals would appear because it finally gave me a perspective I could almost identify with. Not to mention the plot usually started to move at that point – along with the animals.

I should be saying “I digress” at this point, but it doesn’t feel like I did. Make of that what you will.

Escape Rating C: I wanted to like this so much, and I just didn’t. The experiment with voice was interesting but distancing rather than compelling as it was in Ancillary Justice. The injection of the godling’s perspective allowed for a fascinating bit of deus ex machina at the end, involving a quite literal deus, but it takes a LONG time to get there and not nearly enough happens along the way.

There was so much that could have been done here. A lot is said about the way that words have power, and it’s interesting and different but also adds to the distancing. The godling has learned that its words have the power of truth in that if it says something that is not true its power will be sacrificed to make it true. If it says a large or impossible truth, that sacrifice may consume all of its power.

As a consequence, much of its own story is told with the preface, “Here is a story that I have heard.” so that it never runs the risk of claiming that something is true that is not. While this is logically consistent from its perspective within the context of the story, it does add a layer of remove to the storytelling.

In the end, interesting but neither compelling nor absorbing. I will say that the reviews vary widely. Those that love it really, really love it. Those that don’t really, really don’t and there’s not much middle ground. If you like experimental fiction or metafiction in your fantasy, give it a try and see what you think.

Review: California Girls by Susan Mallery

Review: California Girls by Susan MalleryCalifornia Girls by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Chick Lit, contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

My Review:

Last week when I posted the Excerpt and Spotlight for this book, I said that I’d be reviewing it shortly. This is shortly. Probably also a bit longly, as I seldom write short reviews – and this isn’t going to be one.

I can’t do short for this because there are three separate stories packed into this lovely bit of Women’s Fiction. (A term that is attempting to morph into “Relationship Fiction” but I digress.)

Like both of her previous standalone titles, When We Found Home and Daughters of the Bride, this is a story about family. Also like both of those awesome stories, this is a book about three siblings and their sometimes fraught relationship with their remaining parental unit.

This particular story kicks off when all three of the Corrado sisters get dumped on the same day. All the dumps are different, and not all of them are either tragic or even dramatic. But the ones that are really, really are.

Finola, a daytime talk show host in the cutthroat Los Angeles TV market, gets dumped just before showtime. Her husband waltzes in to tell her that he’s leaving her just before she goes on air. Still shell-shocked, her first guest informs her that the woman Finola’s husband has just dumped her for is her. That she’s young, gorgeous and a country music sensation makes the story all that much more titillating to everyone who discovers it.

And said country music queen makes sure that EVERYONE does discover it. After all, she goes after married men on purpose because she likes the scandalous publicity – and seems to enjoy watching the dumped wife get even more dumped on by the voracious maws of both the media and public opinion.

Ali gets dumped less than two months before her wedding. By a douchebag who can’t even manage to do the dumping in person so he sends his brother instead. Leaving Ali with both the ugly job of cancelling all of the wedding arrangements AND dumping her with all of the cancellation fees that result. She’s also going to be homeless in the equally cutthroat LA housing market because she gave up her lease. After all, she was supposed to be moving in with the douchebag after the wedding.

Unlike Finola, Ali gets a knight in shining armor in the person of the douchebag’s brother. A little help with the wedding cancellation turns into a solid friendship – and more.

Zennie’s dumping is completely non-dramatic. Her relationship with Clark just isn’t working out. Or, to use the sad but true cliche, she’s just not that into him. But her non-dramatic breakup turns into something very dramatic indeed, as her newly uncommitted status lets her commit to something really, really big. She agrees to become a surrogate mother for her best friend.

The drama only increases when Zennie becomes pregnant with the first IVF treatment – and she discovers that nearly no-one in her circle of family and friends agrees with her decision AT ALL. Except for Clark, that guy she just wasn’t that into. She may not have been into him as a potential romantic partner, but a solid and supportive friendship is an entirely different thing.

But it’s not just Zennie’s decision to be a surrogate that some people disapprove of. Their mother disagrees and disapproves, loudly, frequently and with some pretty damn awful cutting remarks, that she’s unhappy with every single one of her daughters for not living their lives exactly the way she wants them to. And, ironically, for not giving her grandchildren. Yesterday.

We get to watch all of them “woman up” in the ways that work for them as they each (including mom!) discover what’s important to them, and what they want and need to have the lives they’ve each dreamed of.

A life that includes their frequently dysfunctional, sometimes crazy, but generally loving, family.

Escape Rating B+: I enjoyed California Girls, but not quite as much as Daughters of the Bride, which I absolutely, totally adored. Consider that both a recommendation and a comment that if you loved this one you’ll love that one too – and possibly more.

What makes this story is that their happy ever afters are all different, and that they all reach them in different ways. There might be an expectation that everyone ends up coupled at the end, but they don’t.

And they shouldn’t.

In many ways, Finola’s story is the most interesting as well as the most cliched and least traditional – all at the same time. She begins the story thinking she has it all – the fantastic career and the successful, adoring and understanding husband. Only to discover that what she really has is a successful career that she adores, and a whole lot of other people in her life who have played second (or third or even lower numbered) fiddles to that career.

Being dumped makes her take a long, hard look at herself, who she is and what she really wants – after she takes a realistic but not too lengthy dive into victimhood. She deserves it, she is, after all, a victim of the media circus that disrupts what’s left her life. It takes time for her to figure out that she isn’t the victim in her actual breakup. It takes two to keep a marriage strong – and it takes two to weaken it. Owning her part of her situation makes her own up to her part in what went wrong as well.

Ali’s story is the romance that readers will expect in the story – but it has its own twist. She is supposed to bounce back and find true love. She’s just not supposed to find it with her ex’s brother.

That she also finds herself as part of her journey is the icing on her particular cake.

Zennie’s story is different from her sisters’ – just not as different as I wanted it to be. At the beginning, she is happy being single as well as fairly resistant to society’s (and her mother’s) need to see her couple up with someone. Anyone. Her status as a happy single with a solid support network of friends has her mother convinced she must be a lesbian. She’s not. She’s just not interested in being half of a whole, and she hasn’t discovered sex to be “all that” in any way at all.

I was kind of hoping that Zennie would turn out to be an Ace – an asexual. I think that would have made an interesting perspective to follow through in the story as she begins with an unusual perspective and I’d like to have seen it carried through. That’s my 2 cents.

The storyline about Zennie becoming a surrogate felt well done, but also just not my cuppa. That being said, the reasons she did it worked well within the story. Her desire to help her friend and her willingness to put herself on the line for it were terrific. That pregnancy turned out to be a not exactly awesome experience was real, as were her very mixed emotional reactions all the way down the line. That her friends and family were divided and frequently disapproving also felt real.

I also have mixed feelings about their mother’s part of the story. On the one hand, it was absolutely terrific that she got her own second-chance at love with the movie star who once loved her and then dumped her. On the other hand, she was kind of a bitch to all of her daughters for much of the story. I wish her character had been more than two-dimensional.

That being said, a good time was still had by this reader with these California Girls. I look forward to the author’s next standalone story as well as my next visit to Happily Inc.!

TLC
This post is part of a TLC book tour. Click on the logo for more reviews and features.

The Sunday Post AKA What’s on my (Mostly Virtual) Nightstand 2-24-19

Sunday Post

I almost did it this time. I almost posted this with the “XXX” in place of the usual verbiage. Thank goodness for the ability to preview the post – also that I seem to have had just enough caffeine for it register on my consciousness – which is admittedly still a bit lacking.

We just got back from another cross-country flight yesterday morning in the ridiculous hours. I can’t sleep sitting up, so overnight flights are generally hell. Hopefully this is my last trip until ALA Annual in late June. I’m still having the “happy happy joy joy” reaction to being home and I expect it to last for a while. The cats were SO GLAD to see us! Hecate seemed to have saved up a week’s worth of pouncing and bouncing in anticipation of her people coming home. She also seems to have hit another growth spurt.

I’m looking forward to getting back to normal this week. Especially since it seems to be SPRING in Atlanta!

Current Giveaways:

$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the February of Books Giveaway Hop (ends WEDNESDAY!)
$10 Amazon Gift Card or $10 Book in the Romance is in the Air Giveaway Hop (ends THURSDAY!)
$10 Amazon Gift Card from Sophie Barnes

Winner Announcements:

The winner of The Victory Garden by Rhys Bowen is Susan

Blog Recap:

A+ Guest Review by Amy: Dark Currents by Jacqueline Carey
B Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan Mallery
B+ Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway
A Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard
Stacking the Shelves (328)

Coming This Week:

California Girls by Susan Mallery (blog tour review)
The Raven Tower by Ann Leckie (review)
Lady Derring Takes a Lover by Julie Anne Long (blog tour review)
How Long ‘Til Black Future Month by N.K. Jemisin (review)
Snow Much Fun Giveaway Hop

Stacking the Shelves (328)

Stacking the Shelves

I am doing this super early this week. We’ll have just gotten back from another trip sometime in the wee hours of this morning, and I hope to goodness I’m still sleeping while you read this.

I’m still processing the post-ALA fallout onto my shelves, and this post is MUCH easier to prep from my desktop computer – where I have two monitors. I’ve done it from my laptop, trying to pretend that my iPad is the second screen, and it sorta/kinda works, but not for a haul this big. It’s beginning to feel like I’m going to get the post-ALA Midwinter fallout processed just in time to deal with the post-ALA Annual fallout, and that doesn’t happen until the end of JUNE!

For Review:
The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall
After the Party by Cressida Connolly
Ayesha at Last by Uzma Jalaluddin
Before She Knew Him by Peter Swanson
Blackberry and Wild Rose by Sonia Velton
City of Girls by Elizabeth Gilbert
The Conviction of Cora Burns by Carolyn Kirby
The Devil’s Equinox by John Everson
A Dream of Death (Kate Hamilton #1) by Connie Berry
Exhalation by Ted Chiang
The Farm by Joanne Ramos
The Flatshare by Beth O’Leary
Into the Jungle by Erica Ferencik
The Last Time I Saw You by Liv Constantine
The Last Year of the War by Susan Meissner
The Light from Other Stars by Erika Swyler
The Little Teashop on Main by Jodi Thomas
Middlegame by Seanan McGuire
Natalie Tan’s Book of Luck and Fortune by Roselle Lim
No Saving Throw by Kristin McFarland
The Orphan’s Song by Lauren Kate
Paris 7 A.M. by Liza Wieland
The Poison Thread by Laura Purcell
Puppy Love (Service Puppies #1) by Lucy Gilmore
Rebel (Women Who Dare #1) by Beverly Jenkins
The Red Address Book by Sofia Lundberg
Resistance Women by Jennifer Chiaverini
The Scholar by Dervla McTiernan
The Seven or Eight Deaths of Stella Fortuna by Juliet Grames
The Sol Majestic by Ferrett Steinmetz
The Song of the Jade Lily by Kirsty Manning
Stoker’s Wilde by Steven Hopstaken and Melissa Prusi
Stranger Diaries by Elly Griffiths
The Takeover Effect (Singh Family #1) by Nisha Sharma
The Trial of Lizzie Borden by Cara Robertson
The Unhoneymooners by Christina Lauren
The Vanishing Man (Charles Lenox Prequel #2) by Charles Finch
Vessel by Lisa A. Nichols
We Hunt the Flame (Sands of Arawiya #1) by Hafsah Faizal
Westside by W.M. Akers
When Love Leads to Scandal (Townsbridges #1) by Sophie Barnes (review)
The Wisdom of Sally Red Shoes by Ruth Hogan

Purchased from Amazon:
Black Leopard, Red Wolf (Dark Star #1) by Marlon James (audio)

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de Bodard

Review: The Tea Master and the Detective by Aliette de BodardThe Tea Master and the Detective (The Universe of Xuya) by Aliette de Bodard
Format: ebook
Source: purchased from Amazon
Formats available: hardcover, ebook
Genres: mystery, science fiction
Series: Universe of Zuya
Pages: 96
Published by Subterranean Press on March 31, 2018
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Welcome to the Scattered Pearls Belt, a collection of ring habitats and orbitals ruled by exiled human scholars and powerful families, and held together by living mindships who carry people and freight between the stars. In this fluid society, human and mindship avatars mingle in corridors and in function rooms, and physical and virtual realities overlap, the appareance of environments easily modified and adapted to interlocutors or current mood.

A transport ship discharged from military service after a traumatic injury, The Shadow's Child now ekes out a precarious living as a brewer of mind-altering drugs for the comfort of space-travellers. Meanwhile, abrasive and eccentric scholar Long Chau wants to find a corpse for a scientific study. When Long Chau walks into her office, The Shadow's Child expects an unpleasant but easy assignment. When the corpse turns out to have been murdered, Long Chau feels compelled to investigate, dragging The Shadow's Child with her.

As they dig deep into the victim's past, The Shadow's Child realises that the investigation points to Long Chau's own murky past--and, ultimately, to the dark and unbearable void that lies between the stars...

My Review:

The Nebula Awards shortlist came out this week. I was reminded to take a look at it by someone on the Library Journal Committee that picked the best SF and Fantasy for 2018 for their annual wrap-up because four of our picks are on the Nebula shortlist, as well as a couple of titles that ALMOST made it.

Looking at the list, I noticed a book that I picked up a while ago, as it was recommended in the context of being an “out of this world” Sherlock Holmes pastiche. It has been said that every generation reinvents Sherlock Holmes for themselves, and The Tea Master and the Detective definitely qualifies as one of the more inventive futuristic reinventions, right up there with Sara Holmes and Janet Watson of A Study in Honor.

In The Tea Master and the Detective, we have a tale set in this author’s loosely connected Universe of Xuya series. It’s an alternate history universe where China discovered America before Christopher Columbus. That discovery altered the history of the world, as such a momentous change would. China turned outward instead of inward, and seems to have become the dominant power on Earth before humanity reached the stars.

An influence that is still felt at the time of this story, probably taking place somewhere in the alternate 22nd century – if not later. (The series is made up of short stories and novellas, and they have been scattered in publication throughout every magazine currently publishing SF and Fantasy. I wish they were all collected somewhere because I’d like to read them ALL!)

As I have not yet read the series, I came into this story with no previous knowledge – and I absolutely loved it. While the entire history of the universe isn’t explained – and it shouldn’t be – this little gem still feels complete. I just want to know more. (I always want to know more.)

The detective, in this case the mysterious Long Chau, claims to be writing a thesis on the decomposition of bodies in the deep places of space. Places that seem to be both theoretical and real, although a bit more of each of those elements than might be presupposed at first glance.

The thing about the deep places is that they are both real and unreal, and the unreality of those places affects the human mind – to its detriment. Humans usually travel those deep places safely within the bounds of a ship controlled by a “shipmind”. A ship that is self-aware.

What makes this story so interesting is that the “Watson” to Long Chau’s “Holmes” is a damaged shipmind named The Shadow’s Child who is psychologically unable to travel the deep places – so she makes her living brewing teas that help humans survive the unreality of the places she no longer feels able to go.

Long Chau goes to the fringes of the deep places to find a dead body. But what she’s really looking for is a lost soul. Her own. That she also finds the soul of the scarred shipmind forges a unlikely partnership.

One I hope to see again.

Escape Rating A: This is lovely. It combines two ideas that really shouldn’t have much to do with each other, but work together anyway – much as the two protagonists really shouldn’t have much to do with each other.

Shipminds are people. And this society has places for them and recognizes them as people. The Shadow’s Child has to deal with many of the things that anyone else does, including meddling family members and paying the rent. She will also remind readers of Anne McCaffrey’s classic stories of the brainship Helga, The Ship Who Sang.

The Shadow’s Child is the Watson to Long Chau’s Holmes. The pastiche part of this story is fairly subtle – if you’re not interested, it’s not there. If you are interested, the way that Long Chau refers to herself as a “consulting detective”, her endless deductions of what people, including shipminds, are thinking, feeling and doing as well as her constant use of drugs to stimulate her mind are there to remind readers of some of Sherlock Holmes’ habits, both the more and the less savory of them.

The case that they ultimately find themselves on is an investigation that no one wants solved – and it nearly gets them both killed. But along the way they learn to respect if not necessarily trust each other, and we get to explore a fascinating universe that has plenty of stories in it that are worth telling.

I look forward to ferreting out more of this series as soon as possible!

Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + Giveaway

Review: When Love Leads to Scandal by Sophie Barnes + GiveawayWhen Love Leads to Scandal (Townsbridges #1) by Sophie Barnes
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: historical romance
Series: Townsbridges #1
Pages: 96
Published by Sophie Barnes on February 19th 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

Two people fated to be together…

Recently engaged to the Earl of Langdon, Lady Bethany is content with the knowledge that she’s made a wonderful match for herself. Until a chance encounter with a handsome stranger makes her wish she was still unattached – a sentiment that grows even stronger when circumstance causes her to spend more time in this gentleman’s company.

And the duty that threatens to come between them…

Charles Townsbridge is not prepared to learn that the mystery woman he met in the park, the very same woman he cannot get out of his head, is in fact his best friend’s fiancée. Determined to do the right thing, he tasks himself with quashing the attraction, only to discover that the heart cannot be so easily controlled.

My Review:

Think of this as a historical version of the trope about falling for your significant other’s best friend – just with a whole lot of added consequences.

After a Transatlantic crossing where they had a chance to get to know one another, Lady Bethany agreed to marry Robert, the Earl of Langdon. It seemed like an excellent match – and it possibly might have been. Except for that whole best friend problem.

And because Robert basically saw their engagement as a business transaction, one where once the contract was signed and sealed he didn’t have to put forth any future effort to win the woman who had agreed to become his wife.

He had plenty of other unspoken expectations as well. Love didn’t enter into it – and it honestly didn’t for Bethany, either. But she did hope that when they got to know one another that they would have a solid foundation on which to build a marital partnership of some kind.

He couldn’t be bothered. Which probably goes to show just how much he cared in the first place.

On that very infamous other hand, Bethany met his best friend Charles Townsbridge in the park. Chasing after her runaway bonnet. And felt the spark that had completely eluded her in all of her meetings with Langdon.

She could have considered it just a passing fancy. Or a bored impulse. Or pretty much anything except that spark of an attraction she was no longer eligible to feel.

But Charles felt it too. Leaving him determined to suppress his desires at every turn. Of which there were entirely too many – because Bethany’s fiance trusted his best friend to take care of the woman he couldn’t be bothered to even take tea with.

Nothing happened. There was no affair. Plenty of temptation, but just the barest hint of flirting – and even that only after being thrown together too many times. They were both completely honorable – and both suffering in silence. A silence they both planned to take to their graves.

Lucky for ALL of them, Athena Townsbridge was completely unwilling to let her brother suffer alone for the rest of his life – no matter how much scandal SHE had to cause, with his permission – or without.

Escape Rating B+: This book feels like the absolute ultimate read in UST. That’s “unresolved sexual tension” for those who are not familiar with the acronym from reading fanfic.

The story here is delicious. It’s also appropriately short. I say that because the tension between Bethany and Charles is palpable from their very first meeting, to the point where it quickly becomes painful for them to be together, and equally painful for the reader to watch.

What makes the story is that they are both trying to do the honorable thing. She affianced herself to Langdon quite willingly – albeit not with nearly enough information. Also, he seems to have put on an act of being truly interested in her while they were aboard ship, only for him to completely drop the act once the contract was signed.

He doesn’t come off very well, and he shouldn’t.

But Charles and Bethany both feel stuck. There will be a terrible scandal if she cancels the engagement and it will all fall on her and her family. While they can weather the storm, it could easily mean the difference between her making a good marriage and not marrying at all.

It’s just a mess, and we feel for both of them the whole way through. Robert, not so much.

All of the adults are trying to do the responsible thing, which makes it doubly delicious when Charles’ young sister decides to hell with leaving everyone to wallow in their misery. I hope she gets her own romance sometime later in this series. She’s already earned her own HEA!

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Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan Mallery

Spotlight + Excerpt: California Girls by Susan MalleryCalifornia Girls by Susan Mallery
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, large print, paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, women's fiction
Pages: 432
Published by Mira on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

The California sunshine’s not quite so bright for three sisters who get dumped in the same week…

Finola, a popular LA morning show host, is famously upbeat until she’s blindsided on live TV by news that her husband is sleeping with a young pop sensation who has set their affair to music. While avoiding the tabloids and pretending she’s just fine, she’s crumbling inside, desperate for him to come to his senses and for life to go back to normal.

Zennie’s breakup is no big loss. Although the world insists she pair up, she’d rather be surfing. So agreeing to be the surrogate for her best friend is a no-brainer—after all, she has an available womb and no other attachments to worry about. Except…when everyone else, including her big sister, thinks she’s making a huge mistake, being pregnant is a lot lonelier—and more complicated—than she imagined.

Never the tallest, thinnest or prettiest sister, Ali is used to being overlooked, but when her fiancé sends his disapproving brother to call off the wedding, it’s a new low. And yet Daniel continues to turn up “for support,” making Ali wonder if maybe—for once—someone sees her in a way no one ever has.

But side by side by side, these sisters will start over and rebuild their lives with all the affection, charm and laugh-out-loud humor that is classic Susan Mallery.

It was almost a year ago that I was posting an excerpt from Susan Mallery’s previous standalone title, When We Found Home. At the time I said that I don’t normally do posts without reviews, but that I was making an exception for her latest because I knew it would be a winner – and it was – and because I was already scheduled for the review tour – as I am again. And, admittedly because I was in the midst of a trip and it made my life easier! All of those things are true again. I’m sure California Girls will be a terrific read because all of Susan’s other books have been. I’m reviewing California Girls next week as part of the tour. And I’m away on a trip. Sometimes history does repeat!

Excerpt from California Girls by Susan Mallery

“Are you happy with the look?” the saleswoman asked Ali, as if Zennie’s opinion didn’t matter. “Is this what you imagined?”

“Sadly, yes.” Ali laughed. “See, I told you both my sisters were fabulous. No one is even going to notice me.”

“Nonsense. You’ll be the bride.” The woman climbed onto the platform and started pulling pins from the pincushion strapped around her wrist. “I’ll do a little tucking to give you an idea of the look, then we’ll get our seamstress out here to do the final pinning.”

The two women discussed everything from lowering the neckline—Zennie said no to that—to the length of the dress.

“Are you sure you don’t want to wear some kind of heel?” the salesperson asked.

“Very.”

Ali sighed. “Zennie won’t budge on that. Good thing her boyfriend isn’t that much taller than her or they would look weird together.”

Zennie looked at her sister in the mirror. “Boyfriend?”

“Duh. Clark.”

Zennie stared blankly.

“Clark. You’ve been seeing him awhile now. He works with the zoo. He’s a primate specialist or whatever it’s called.”

“Primatologist, and he’s not my boyfriend. We’ve only gone out three times.” She barely knew him and had no idea if she liked him or not. Boyfriend? As if. She hadn’t even told her mother about Clark, which explained the evening text offering to set her up on yet another blind date.

“You said you were bringing him to the wedding.”

“No. I said I might bring him to the wedding.”

“Zennie! I planned on you and a plus-one. You have to bring a date.”

Why? That was the question, Zennie thought as Ali was distracted by whether or not to shorten her sleeves. Why did she have to bring a date? Was she less socially acceptable without a date? Was her conversation less sparkly, her love less welcome? She had no idea why she’d even mentioned Clark, let alone discussed him as her plus-one at the wedding. She wouldn’t want him there, regardless of the state of their nonrelationship. For one thing, people would ask too many questions. For another, her mother would go totally insane at the possibility of Zennie finally settling down with someone and giving her grandbabies. No one could survive that much pressure.

The pinning and tucking finished, Zennie stared at the dress. She would never admit it to her sister, but to her everything looked exactly the same. Of course she had the pins poking her to prove it wasn’t.

“Can you finish up here without me?” Ali asked, glancing at her watch. “I have to stop by the florist before I need to race back to work for a meeting.”

“I’m fine. I will stand here until they release me.” Once again she thought about how Nigel looked at Finola and how Glen didn’t look at Ali. “Shouldn’t your hubby-to-be handle some of this?”

“I would never trust Glen with the flowers. He’s a red roses kind of guy and that would be all wrong.” Ali stepped up on the dais and kissed her cheek. “Thanks for doing this. Love you.”

“Love you, too.”

Ali raced to the door, then looked back. “Bring a date!”

“Bite me.”

Ali was still laughing when she ducked out of the store.

Zennie looked at her reflection and tried not to think about the wedding. It was four, maybe five hours out of her life. Yes, they would be torturous hours, but they were for a good cause. In the name of sisterhood and all that.

As for a date, well, that might be a problem. Because Clark was a nonstarter for sure.

Finola gripped the steering wheel so hard, her fingers ached, but she didn’t dare relax. Not until she was home. She drove slowly, careful to stay under the speed limit as she turned into her exclusive Encino neighborhood. As she approached the gate in front of their small community, she felt her control beginning to slip.

Almost there, she chanted silently. Almost there, almost there, almost there.

She made two rights, then a left before pulling into the driveway and pushing the button to open the garage door. As she eased forward, her hands slipped and the car veered a little to the right. She jammed on the brakes and started to back up, only to realize that she didn’t have to. Who cared if she wasn’t fully in her own section of the garage? It wasn’t as if Nigel was going to be pulling in next to her anytime soon. Of that she was sure.

She turned off the engine and collected her tote bag and purse. Once she closed the garage door, she walked into the house.

She was greeted by silence. She and Nigel had never wanted a housekeeper. There was a cleaning service that came twice a week and a meal delivery service, but both had been put on hold because of the upcoming Hawaii trip. As of two hours ago, the plan had been for her to meet Nigel at home after the show so she could finish packing. They would leave for the airport first thing in the morning. Only none of that was going to happen now. Not the packing, not the trip, not them being together and making a baby.

She dropped her handbag and tote to the floor, then kicked out of her shoes. She needed a plan, she told herself. She had to figure out what to do first, then second, then third. Only with each step she took, the blessed shock faded, leaving behind pain and disbelief and humiliation. The tears came first, then the sobs. She stumbled before sinking to her knees where she covered her face with her hands as she screamed out the agony.

Author Info:

#1 NYT bestselling author Susan Mallery writes heartwarming, humorous novels about the relationships that define our lives-family, friendship, romance. She’s known for putting nuanced characters in emotional situations that surprise readers to laughter. Beloved by millions, her books have been translated into 28 languages.Susan lives in Washington with her husband, two cats, and a small poodle with delusions of grandeur. Visit her at SusanMallery.com.

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Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick

Review: The Woman in the Lake by Nicola CornickThe Woman in the Lake by Nicola Cornick
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: Gothic, historical fiction, horror, timeslip fiction
Pages: 320
Published by Graydon House on February 26, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

From the bestselling author of House of Shadows and The Phantom Tree comes a spellbinding tale of jealousy, greed, plotting and revenge—part history, part mystery—for fans of Kate Morton, Susanna Kearsley and Barbara Erskine


London, 1765

Lady Isabella Gerard, a respectable member of Georgian society, orders her maid to take her new golden gown and destroy it, its shimmering beauty tainted by the actions of her brutal husband the night before.

Three months later, Lord Gerard stands at the shoreline of the lake, looking down at a woman wearing the golden gown. As the body slowly rolls over to reveal her face, it’s clear this was not his intended victim…

250 Years Later…

When a gown she stole from a historic home as a child is mysteriously returned to Fenella Brightwell, it begins to possess her in exactly the same way that it did as a girl. Soon the fragile new life Fen has created for herself away from her abusive ex-husband is threatened at its foundations by the gown’s power over her until she can't tell what is real and what is imaginary.

As Fen uncovers more about the gown and Isabella’s story, she begins to see the parallels with her own life. When each piece of history is revealed, the gown—and its past—seems to possess her more and more, culminating in a dramatic revelation set to destroy her sanity.

My Review:

After reading The Phantom Tree last year, I was expecting The Woman in the Lake to be yet another marvelous piece of timeslip fiction by this author. I loved The Phantom Tree and was looking forward to more.

That’s not quite what I got.

The Woman in the Lake is what I call horror-adjacent. It’s really creepy with a constant air of menacing danger. Although it does “slip time” between the 18th century and the 21st, those slips just add to the air of Gothic horror.

You’ve heard about “Say Yes to the Dress”? This is a story where all of the people touched by it should have not merely said “No” to the dress, but really should have screamed “Hell NO” and run far and fast.

The dress is pure evil. Also laced with arsenic. And yes, you really can kill someone that way. The Borgias did, after all.

How the dress came to both embody and emanate so much evil is something that we only find out part of. We do learn how it was made – we just don’t ever find out how it got to be so powerfully malevolent in its own right.

What we see in this story about all the lives that revolve around and are ruined by this one beautiful, deadly, golden dress is that in the way that time slips and history almost repeats – there is a path to freedom.

But the only way to reach it is through fear, and pain. And even more fear.

Escape Rating B: This story was well and truly creepy. A bit creepier than I generally like to go. It did make the cross country plane trip go very fast – but I’m really glad I read it with ALL the lights on – and with plenty of company.

It’s not really about the dress. Well, it is, but it isn’t. The dress can’t make anyone do anything they weren’t already inclined towards, but it does seem to remove the inhibitions of conscience. We all have nasty thoughts from time to time, but conscience, or fear of consequences, prevent most of us from acting on the worst of those thoughts.

The story begins, and circles back around to, a group of men who did not have to let their consciences be their guides. In fact, the opposite. The Moonrakers of Swindon were smugglers. Smuggling wasn’t romantic, it was organized crime. Led by a group of men who would do anything to protect their illicit trade – including murder. In other words, these were men who terrorized an entire region and explicitly told their consciences to STFU.

The plan was for the gang leader to aid and abet a local lord with the murder of his wife, only for the plot to go horribly awry. And for the dress that was intended to do the deed to go skipping through history, leaving death and destruction in its wake.

Until it fetches up in the 21st century, in the hands of a woman who has no clue that she’s part of its long lost history, and a man who intends to reenact that long ago attempted murder.

One of the things that I loved about this book was the way that the story and the history came full circle in the end – and in a surprising way. Not just that history almost but not quite repeated, although it nearly does, but that everything that went around really did come around by the end.

One of the things that drove me a bit batty was the air of creeping menace that hangs over the entire story. It sucked me in. I kept looking for an exit, much as the heroine keeps looking for a way to escape her own past. As was certainly true for the heroine, the only way was through.

In the end, I’m left with mixed feelings. This is not the kind of book that I usually enjoy, but I was enthralled and couldn’t put it down until the end. And I’m still creeped out by the whole thing.

One final note, the ending of the blurb feels very wrong. The revelation at the end does not threaten the heroine’s sanity. Quite the opposite. Instead, the revelation at the end proves that she has been sane all along. It may also kill her.

I’ll be over here in the corner. Still shuddering…

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