Review: The Wedding Setup by Sonali Dev + Spotlight + Giveaway

Review: The Wedding Setup by Sonali Dev + Spotlight + GiveawayThe Wedding Setup: A Short Story by Sonali Dev
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: ebook, audiobook
Genres: contemporary romance, short stories
Pages: 67
Published by Amazon Original Stories on January 11, 2022
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazon
Goodreads

From USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev comes a heartfelt short story about one woman’s journey of self-discovery and what it means to be happy.
Ayesha Shetty lost her brother seven years ago, the same time she lost everything else important to her: her dreams, her fierce independence, and the man she loved. Not wanting to see her mother hurt anymore, she put her wild self away and became the dutiful daughter her mother needed and took on her brother’s role in the family business.
Now her best friend’s big, fat Indian wedding is a chance to get away from her endless duties at the restaurant and maybe even have some fun (if she remembers how). But a setup arranged by her mother, with a doctor no less, is the last thing she needs. The fact that he checks all her mother’s boxes just makes everything better…and worse.
Then Emmitt Hughes shows up. Her brother’s best friend. The love she once chose over family duties and her responsibilities. The one she asked to leave, and who did. The one who knows the real Ayesha. Torn between a love from the past that could cost her the only person she has left and her sense of obligation to her mother, will Ayesha find the strength to stop thinking about what everyone else wants and finally put herself first? Or is the old Ayesha truly gone for good?

My Review:

The Wedding Setup is a short story, so I’m going to try to do it justice in a short review. Especially since this is a jam-packed post with an interview with the author, an excerpt from the story AND a giveaway!

From a certain perspective, this is a story about handling grief – or rather NOT handling grief. Ayesha has put herself in a box in her attempt to be the perfect daughter that she never was – and it’s a straitjacket. But so is the reason for that attempt, the death of her brother and her desperate need to hold onto her mother in the ultimately vain hope of preventing either of them from suffering any more losses. Ayesha’s father died when she was ten, and her mother was the rock that sheltered both her and her brother through the rest of her childhood. When her brother died, they were all each other had left. That and the depth of their grief and the fear of another loss.

But they lost each other along the way – even as they spent 16 hours a day together keeping the family’s restaurant afloat. Hanging onto the last remaining bit of her brother’s dream.

As this story opens, it’s been seven years since Ajay died, and Ayesha’s mother has had enough of living with Ayesha’s obedient ghost – because that’s who it seems has been trudging through the world in Ayesha’s place.

But that is far, far, far from what the story seems to be for most of its length. As Amma does her level best to bring back the old, vibrant, downright combative Ayesha by poking that sleeping tiger with every single stick she can find.

In the hopes that her daughter will come back to life and reach out for her own happy ever after.

Escape Rating A-: I have only one complaint about this story – it’s too damn short. It’s beautiful, it’s marvelous, and all the characters are fascinating – even the ones who only exist in memory. I would have loved this story even more if it had been novel length. But it isn’t so I’ll make do with what I have.

Part of the fun of The Wedding Setup is that the setup of Ayesha is not what either Ayesha or the reader think it is. The story is a gem of misdirection, and the reveal at the end forces both Ayesha and the reader to rethink everything that has happened. And rejoice at the ending.

Also laugh uproariously at the mental picture of a rat in scrubs administering a pap smear. Which is the only way to laugh at one of those necessary evils. Read The Wedding Setup to find out just how that comes to pass. The mental picture, that is.


Interview with Sonali Dev + Excerpt from The Wedding Setup

The Wedding Setup may be a short story, but it is tremendously powerful. How would you describe it to readers?

Thank you. It’s the story of a girl who used to be a rebel who followed her heart and fought for what she wanted, and then her brother’s death leaves her responsible for her widowed mother. It’s about being knocked off your feet and getting stuck, and learning how to stand back up and reclaim yourself.

The story invites us to take an intimate look into a mother-daughter relationship. This is a universal theme, however, you also steep the plot in your own Indian heritage. Can you tell readers what this story means to you as a daughter? What it means to you as an Indian woman?

There is so much of my own relationship with my mother in this book. We’ve always been incredibly close. She’s outspoken and confident and she modeled some powerful behaviors for me growing up about owning her own body and her voice. But there were the other parts where she was a product of her time and culture, believing in absolute terms that it is a woman’s duty to nurture her family, to marry ‘at the right time,’ to be a certain kind of mother. These are things she pushed hard. Things I internalized but also fought to do on my own terms and not hers. Ayesha’s relationship with her mother used to be this way, and then a tragedy changes their dynamic. So, it’s an exploration of how battles for identity get derailed by tragedy and grief and what it takes to heal.

Ayesha’s mom describes her as obedient, responsible, and “always putting everyone else before her own needs.” After hearing this Ayesha (internally) feels hypothermic. Can you explain how these seemingly sweet compliments completely destroy your heroine?

The mother-child bond comes with a kind of intuitive understanding of each other that’s unique to that relationship. So, while Ayesha has lost her fiery spirit and both she and her mother have lost years to their grief and struggle to survive, her mother knows who her daughter is deep down and how much she’s buried. So there’s a very nuanced intent to these ‘compliments’ and they hit the nerve they’re meant to hit. Ayesha’s reaction to these words is her dead parts coming back to life.

It only takes a moment—one second—for Ayesha to break free from her ice…a single word from Emmitt has her coming back to life. Why does she have such a powerful reaction to someone she hasn’t seen in seven years?

Ayesha had a crush on Emmitt for many years before they got together. She’s always had a strong reaction to him. The years they spent together as young adults were years when she came into herself, and felt seen and cherished. Then she loses all of that when her brother dies and they break up. So, it’s a combination of things that come together when Ayesha meets Emmitt again. They have a natural connection, but also, with his return come all the memories of who she used to be and how much she used to let herself feel.

Ayesha has never forgotten how Emmitt turns “her messy, impulsive, unfettered emotion into something beautiful.” But she has forgotten the effect that she has on him. What buried memories are uncovered as she watches Emmitt react to their reunion?

Emmitt has always dealt with the world and the pain it causes him by keeping everyone at arm’s length. But Ayesha destroys his defenses with her ability to love (and do everything else) so fiercely. So, when he loses her he’s already lost his ability to protect himself. Their joint grief is what separated them, so, while they understand each other’s pain they both also understand the loneliness of not having each other to lean on. They’ve had to make the journey to healing individually, but meeting each other again brings up the piece that needs the other to heal.

How did you get to know your couple? How were you able to understand what was needed to heal their broken hearts?

The one theme that threads through all my books is finding yourself on the tightrope between personal freedom and responsibility to family and community. Healing is always about finding or rediscovering your love for yourself. So, I understand my characters through that lens: how have they lost themselves? What about themselves do they need to reclaim and fall in love with? A truly connected couple is one who aids this journey in each other, recognizes it, and supports it.

In a limited number of pages you not only give readers a living, breathing couple, but also an avalanche of equally interesting characters like Ayesha’s best friend, suitor, aunties…and you even create depth with characters that are no longer living. Why was it so important to spend time with these secondary characters? What do they reveal about your hero and heroine?

I believe that as humans we are a sum total of our relationships and the world we live in and build for ourselves. How someone treats other people and how they respond to how they are treated is what constitutes character.

At its heart, every story is about a person who is somehow at odds with the world they live in or with themselves because of the expectations of their world, and the journey they make to resolve that conflict. Ayesha wouldn’t be Ayesha without her mother and Bela, her best friend and the community she was raised in. Bela has been her wild other half growing up, then their paths diverged, but they continued to be each other’s support. Her mother has become a crutch she uses to hold on to her grief. Emmitt’s grief over his friend has run his life for seven years too. So the secondary characters are just as integral to the story as the protagonists.

While the plot focuses on grief, there is also great joy to be found. After all, the backdrop of the story is a giant wedding. What do you personally find the most fun at a traditional Indian wedding celebration?

I’m always only there for the food and dancing! Fine, and getting to dress up. And the wine. Also, maybe the chance to hang out with family and friends I only see at weddings. And the drunk aunties and uncles.

After readers devour The Wedding Setup, which of your other books would you recommend they read next?

First, thank you so much for devouring The Wedding Setup! I’m incredibly proud of my Rajes series, a set of retellings of my four favorite Jane Austen novels set in a politically ambitious Indian American family from Northern California. Pride, Prejudice, and Other Flavors is a gender flipped Pride and Prejudice. Recipe for Persuasion is a two-generational homage to Persuasion set on a Food Network show. Incense and Sensibility, the love story between a gubernatorial candidate and a yoga therapist who can save him but also destroy his campaign, pays tribute to Sense and Sensibility. And the upcoming The Emma Project (May 17th 2022), which is a gender flipped Emma that explores what it means when a person with tremendous privilege offers charity to someone who has much less.

The Wedding Setup Excerpt

Goose bumps rose across Ayesha’s skin, one sharp dot at a time.

“Ayesha.”

That was it. Just that one word. Her name. In a voice that was its own ghost.

She squeezed her eyes shut. One tight squeeze. Tight enough to hurt, tight enough to almost dislodge the false eyelashes Andre had pressed into her lash line one by one with the precision of a surgeon. Then boom! she was in control again and back to Ayesha on Ice.

Eyes blank, face set, she turned toward the voice.

Emmitt.

The impact of him was a body blow.

The entire universe stilled. Words weren’t a thing. Or sound. Breath? What was that?

Ayesha! Get a grip.

No grip. That’s how it had always been. She’d had no grip when it came to Emmitt Hughes. Not even a little bit. Not when she’d spied on him and Ajay playing Mario Kart and Minecraft and GTA for hours, for years. Not when she’d yearned and dreamed and spun stories with him at the center.

I’ve made my love for you, my god.

It was the cheesiest of lines from one of those Bollywood songs her parents had played on repeat at the restaurant. Amma had loved translating the over-the-top lyrics and explaining their nuances.

Back when Amma was full of stories and songs and laughter. Before Ajay.

Ajay.

Her brother’s unspoken name fell between them like a glass bauble and shattered.

“You remember Emmitt,” Edward had the gall to say.

Bela shot him a glare.

You didn’t tell me he would be here. Ayesha threw the silent accusation at her traitorous best friend, who gave her nothing more than another worried look.

No, Eddie. Remind me again who he is? The snarky words stuck in Ayesha’s throat. Old Ayesha would have said them. Old Ayesha said everything.

“Emmitt,” New Ayesha said, every feeling buried under her customer-is-king voice from the restaurant. “Nice to see you again.”

His Adam’s apple bobbed in the long column of his throat. How was he still so darned beautiful?

One swallow, and then he smiled back. Banking feelings where no one saw them had been his thing. Emmitt the Wall. That’s what Ajay had called him. Her brother had been best friends with him since Emmitt had moved to Naperville in fifth grade after his parents’ divorce. Years of friendship, and he’d still held Ajay at that slight distance he’d been so good at. Something she would always wish she hadn’t cured him of.

You broke me, Ayesha.You broke every defense I’ve ever had against the world.

She, Ayesha Shetty—too tall, too dark, too outspoken, too intense, too ambitious, too everything for everyone else had been just enough to break through Emmitt the Wall.

“It’s nice to see you too,” he said gently, sounding . . . she dug through her brain to come up with the right word. Grown-up? Contained?

Good. Because Ayesha was all those things now too. Not a grenade with its fuse pulled, ready to blow up the world.

Author Biography

USA Today bestselling author Sonali Dev writes Bollywood-style love stories that explore universal issues. Her novels have been named best books of the year by Library Journal, NPR, the Washington Post, and Kirkus Reviews. She has won numerous accolades, including the American Library Association’s award for best romance, the RT Reviewers’ Choice Award for best contemporary romance, and multiple RT Seals of Excellence; has been a RITA finalist; and has been listed for the Dublin Literary Award. Shelf Awareness calls her “not only one of the best but one of the bravest romance novelists working today.” She lives in Chicagoland with her husband, two visiting adult children, and the world’s most perfect dog.

Buy Link: https://amzn.to/3pWDqM8

Social Media Links

Website: https://sonalidev.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/SonaliDev.author

Twitter: https://twitter.com/Sonali_Dev

Instagram: https://www.instagram.com/sonali.dev/

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/author/show/7025918.Sonali_Dev

~~~~~~ TOURWIDE GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet

Review: Fire of the Frost by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda BouchetFire of the Frost: A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology by Darynda Jones, Jeffe Kennedy, Grace Draven, Amanda Bouchet
Format: ebook
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy romance, holiday romance, short stories
Pages: 368
Published by Brightlynx Publishing on December 22nd 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

A midwinter holiday fantasy romance anthology…

From Darynda Jones, A Wynter Fyre a standalone novella set in a world where vampyres are hunted for sport. The only thing standing between them and total annihilation is Winter, a warrior bred to save them from extinction. Forbidden to fall in love, Winter cares only about her oaths… until she meets the devilish prince of the underworld.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet
The Kingmaker Chronicles meets modern-day New York City! Piers, an exiled warrior from Thalyria, finds himself in the Big Apple just before the holidays. The world and everything in it might be utterly foreign to him, but that won't stop Piers from helping to complete a vital mission for Athena and protect Sophie, a French teacher from Connecticut who's suddenly knee-deep in inexplicable phenomena, danger, and henchmen after an Olympian treasure that should never have ended up in her hands—or remained on Earth after the Greek gods abandoned it.

The King of Hel by Grace Draven
A novella-length expansion of a stand-alone short story in which a cursed mage-king from a frozen kingdom is obligated to marry a woman of high-ranking nobility but meets his soulmate in a lowly scribe.

Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy
It’s holiday time at Convocation Academy, but best friends Han and Iliana are finding it hard to celebrate. As a familiar, Iliana is facing her assignment to a life of servitude to a wizard, very soon. And Han… despite being tested by the oracle daily, he is still uncategorized. As Iliana and Han face being separated forever, they at last find the courage—or desperation—to break the rules and acknowledge their deeper feelings for each other. But it will take more than true love to save them from the laws of the Convocation…

My Review:

This holiday treat dropped into my lap this week and I couldn’t resist starting it immediately! Isn’t that what holiday treats are for? Immediate consumption for the yes! Especially as I’ve received earlier versions of this confection of a collection (Under a Winter Sky, Seasons of Sorcery and Amid the Winter Snow) and they’ve all been wonderful reading treats.

For the most part, this year’s collection of winter fantasy romances was a very sweet treat indeed – with just enough naughty in the mix to give Santa a blush or four.

My absolute favorite story this year was Grace Draven’s The King of Hel, and not just because it’s a standalone story that isn’t set in one of her other worlds. It’s the kind of fantasy romance that didn’t really have to be a fantasy romance. In fact, its real world inspiration was not. Inspired by the real life romance between Madame de Maintenon and Louis XIV of France, this is the story of Doranis, the magic-touched king of Helenrisia and his queen’s best friend, the modestly born Castil il Veras. What made this story so beautiful is the way that Castil’s deep, life-long friendship with Doranis’ queen is not broken by the romance. Rather, Castil is heartbroken when her best friend dies in childbirth yet still honors that friendship. But life goes on, and the queen’s death gives Doranis the freedom to marry the woman who is suited to him in all ways but birth, and lets Castil acknowledge her love for a man who was otherwise twice beyond her touch.

This was just a beautiful winter romance between two strong and surprisingly equal partners and I loved every page of it.

On the other hand, my least favorite story in this collection was Familiar Winter Magic by Jeffe Kennedy. It’s not that it’s not a good story, because it is, and it’s not that it’s not well done, because it is that as well. It’s that the protagonists of the story are fundamentally, by law and custom, absolutely powerless and their powerlessness gets rubbed like salt into their wounds and the reader’s psyche at every turn. This is just one of those cases where I know it’s good and I know there’s an audience for it and I’m just not it.

Of Fate and Fire by Amanda Bouchet was just plain fun, kind of in the way that the first Thor movie was fun. At points, literally in the way that the first Thor movie was fun, a fact that the heroine references more than once during the course of her whirlwind romance while running from bad guys story plays out. Although Piers of Thalyria, an exile from the world of the author’s Kingmaker Chronicles, has no godlike powers, it turns out that his heroine does and he’s been jerked across time and space in order to protect her while she figures out how to either use them or give them back. The story here is kind of a lighthearted romp – in spite of being chased down by evil entrepreneurs and their henchmen at every turn.

Last but not least, my second favorite story in the collection, Darynda Jones’ A Wynter Fyre. The beginning had a bit of an “aliens made them do it” start – not that any of the characters in this story are actually alien to this world. But there’s a common fanfiction trope for series like Stargate and its spinoffs where the characters are compelled by unbridled libidos to have sex because of “alien sex pollen”. The way this story begins, with vampyres biting Wynter in order to infect her with the equivalent of “vampyre sex pollen” had a very similar feel. Particular when the hero fends off the bad vamps in order to woo her for himself, once he’s helped her take the edge off, so to speak.

After that hot, heavy, creepy and slightly rapey beginning the story itself takes a surprising turn. Wynter has been awakened from 70+ years as a statue because her mother the demon (yes, the being she believes is her mother is an actual demon) needs her to rescue a kidnapped vampyre princess.

But it’s all a setup. Not that the princess hasn’t been kidnapped, but it’s all part of the plot to give Wynter the chance to do her job of protecting the vampyres properly – by killing the greatest threat to their existence – her demon mother. That the setup also manages to change the romance from a sex into love story into a second chance at love story is all part of its charm – something this one had absolutely oodles of.

Escape Rating B+: This collection is always a lovely holiday treat. But like any collection, some stories hit the mark with this reader – or any other – while others aren’t quite as close to the bullseye.

If I were giving individual ratings, A Wynter Fyre would get an A; Of Fate and Fire would receive a B; The King of Hel hits the high spot at A+ while Familiar Winter Magic just didn’t work for me at all. Your reading mileage – even through the snowy landscape of these winter tales – will definitely vary.

No matter which stories in the collection tickle your holiday reading fancy, the collection is definitely worth curling up with some hot chocolate and a cozy blanket for a delicious holiday read!

Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten

Review: An Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene TurstenAn Elderly Lady Must Not Be Crossed by Helene Tursten, Marlaine Delargy
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: mystery, short stories, thriller
Pages: 272
Published by Soho Crime on October 5, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Everyone’s favorite octogenarian killer is back in this new collection of stories by Swedish crime writer Helene Tursten that is sure to have you in stitches.
Eighty-eight-year-old Maud is never looking for trouble, but it always seems to find her. First, a woman in her building met an untimely end: tragic. Then, just recently, a dead body mysteriously appeared in her very own apartment, prompting an investigation by the local Gothenburg authorities. Such a strange coincidence. When it seems suspicion has fallen on her, little old lady that she is, Maud decides to skip town and splurges on a trip to South Africa for herself.
In these six interlocking stories, memories of unfortunate incidents from Maud’s past keep bubbling to the surface, each triggered by something in the present: an image, a word, even a taste. When she lands in Johannesburg at last, eager to move on from the bloody ordeal last summer, she finds certain problems seem to be following her. Luckily, Maud is no stranger to taking matters into her own hands . . . even if it means she has to get a little blood on them in the process.
Don’t let her age fool you. Maud may be nearly ninety, but this elderly lady still has a few tricks before she’s ready to call it quits.
*Includes cookie recipes*

My Review:

While neither as smooth nor as famous as “Tinkers to Evers to Chance” there has been a progression in this week’s reviews. First there was a book about “real” ghosts. Then fake ghosts being investigated by elderly lady amateur detectives. Today we have a story about real detectives investigating an elderly lady who might just be a serial killer. With fatally delicious cookie recipes.

Just like the previous trip through Maud’s murderous memory, An Elderly Lady is Up to No Good, the detectives who visit Maud are more of a catalyst than they are an integral part of the story. Inspector Irene Huss and Detective Embla Nyström still can’t quite get their minds around the idea that 88-year-old Maud might have been the murderer of the man who was found dead in her apartment over the summer. But they also can’t dismiss their instincts that say that Maud did it, no matter how frail and dotty a persona she projects.

That the detectives are still sniffing around Maud’s apartment makes Maud a bit apprehensive. I’d say nervous but Maud doesn’t seem to get nervous. Maud just removes whatever problem has come her way. But when the problem is two police detectives, she’s better off removing herself from their jurisdiction rather than employing her usual methods.

So Maud takes herself off, at 88 going on 89, on a luxury trip to a place she’s always loved. It’s been five years since her last, somewhat more economical visit to South Africa, so this time she’s going to go first class all the way. After all, she can afford it and she has no one to leave her money to, so she might as well spend some of it while she’s still capable of the trip.

The story of this elderly lady who truly must not be crossed isn’t so much a single story as it is a collection of memories. As Maud naps on the very long series of flights from Sweden to Johannesburg, her mind drifts back into the past, to the very first time she took care of business in her own inimitable-if-not-yet-deadly style when she was only eleven.

By the time that Maud eliminates her rival for a full-time teaching position, we see that Maud’s course is firmly set. She sees a problem – and she gets rid of the problem. She plans, she executes, and well, she executes someone who is in her way. Sometimes by way of a well aimed icicle, and sometimes by way of a not-so-nice recipe for cookies.

Maud gets things done.

But her trip to South Africa, besides causing her in-flight trips down memory lane, also gives her a chance to think about what she wants from the rest of her life, however short or long that might be. And it puts her in the way of one last good deed, by carrying out one more bad one.

Escape Rating A-: As with the previous book, Maud’s adventures are short but not exactly sweet. How could they be when Maud’s tried-and-true method of solving problems is to eliminate the cause of the problem – permanently.

Which makes Maud a bit of a guilty pleasure. On the one hand, I hope to be that healthy, spry and self-possessed at 88. On the other hand, Maud is a successful serial killer, not exactly a hobby to aspire to. If that’s what it takes to keep oneself young there’s a serious problem with the collateral damage. Maud is kind of like a picture of Dorian Gray that inflicts its damage on other people instead of a portrait.

I’m waxing a bit hyperbolic because of my internal conflict – although Maud has none. And probably doesn’t have a conscience either. There’s so much about Maud that’s admirable, and enviable. Her head is a very entertaining place to be. But she kills people who get in her way. Regularly. Some of them deserve it. And some are just in Maud’s way – until they aren’t.

The Ducote sisters from yesterday’s book are probably better role models for what one would want to be in their 80s. But having a drink or a meal with Maud would be fascinating – at least after I’d checked everything over for poison.

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. Liu

Review: The Tangleroot Palace by Marjorie M. LiuThe Tangleroot Palace: Stories by Marjorie M. Liu
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook, audiobook
Genres: anthologies, fantasy, horror, short stories
Pages: 256
Published by Tachyon Publications on June 15, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

New York Times bestseller and Hugo, British Fantasy, Romantic Times, and Eisner award-winning author of the graphic novel, Monstress, Marjorie Liu leads you deep into the heart of the tangled woods. In her long-awaited debut story collection, dark, lush, and spellbinding short fiction you will find unexpected detours, dangerous magic, and even more dangerous women.
“The Tangleroot Palace is charming and ruthless. Tales that feel new yet grounded in the infinitely ancient, a mythology for the coming age.”—Angela Slatter, author of The Bitterwood Bible
“Marjorie Liu is magic! Her writing is passionate, lyric, gritty, and riveting. She belongs high on everyone’s must-read list.”—Elizabeth Lowell, author of Only Mine
Briar, bodyguard for a body-stealing sorceress, discovers her love for Rose, whose true soul emerges only once a week. An apprentice witch seeks her freedom through betrayal, the bones of the innocent, and a meticulously-plotted spell. In a world powered by crystal skulls, a warrior returns to save China from invasion by her jealous ex. A princess runs away from an arranged marriage, finding family in a strange troupe of traveling actors at the border of the kingdom’s deep, dark woods.
Concluding with a gorgeous full-length novella, Marjorie Liu’s first short fiction collection is an unflinching sojourn into her thorny tales of love, revenge, and new beginnings.

My Review:

I picked this up not for her multiple award-winning Monstress, which I haven’t read yet, but for Dirk & Steele and Hunter’s Kiss, her marvelous urban fantasy/paranormal series that I read when they came out back in the late 2000s. I loved both of those series, but I’m kind of astonished that they came out way more than a decade ago.

But it has been a while, so I was happy to see this collection as a way of renewing my acquaintance with an author I very much loved. And I’m glad I did. There’s even a prequel for Dirk & Steele in this collection, at least if you squint a bit.

My favorite stories in this collection were The Briar and the Rose, Call Her Savage and the title story, The Tangleroot Palace.

The Briar and the Rose takes the fairytale of Sleeping Beauty, adds in a bit of magical possession and body-swapping, and wraps it in a bodyguard romance. Except that this takes place in a world of myth and legend, where an evil sorceress is maintaining her youth and beauty by possessing pretty young women and discarding their corpses. That sorceress is defeated by the love that develops between her female bodyguard and the true personality of the body being possessed in stolen moments when the sorceress sleeps. And it’s a powerful story about just how strong people can be when they have something, or someone to fight beside and to fight for.

Call Her Savage was fascinating because it hints at so much world and such a rich history that we don’t get to see in this story. There’s alternate history and revolution and wars and flawed heroines and politics and lost causes and fighting the long defeat. It reminds me a bit of Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune, but with an alternate 19th or 20th century instead of alternate early history. This is the one I wish there were more of. A lot more.

The Tangleroot Palace was lush and lovely and kind of perfect. On its surface its about a princess who runs away from home to find magic in order to save herself and hopefully save her kingdom from subservience to a brutal warlord. And underneath that it’s a romance about hiding behind masks to protect one’s true self, about the power of illusion and the power of agency. And of course nothing about the warlord or the kingdom or the subservience turns out to be quite what the princess was expecting. But the magic at the heart of the forest is all too real, even if, or especially because, it too is based on an illusion.

Of the rest of the collection, Sympathy for the Bones, Where the Heart Lives and The Last Dignity of Man were interesting and I’m glad I read them but they weren’t quite up there with my faves. After the Blood played with a supernatural/paranormal take on a post-apocalyptic story but didn’t give enough details to really hang together. Not that some characters weren’t hung or otherwise eliminated, but this one felt like it had been done before, and better, elsewhere.

Still and all, I’d have read this for those three favorite stories, and I’m glad I stuck around for the whole thing. It was just the right amount of lovely and romantic and creepy to while awhile a rainy evening with a cat on my lap.

Escape Rating A-: This is a strong collection, filled with stories that grip the heart, ramp up the adrenaline and occasionally wring the tear ducts. They’re not new stories, but they were all new to me, and I got completely wrapped up in every single one. They have the feel of feminist fairy tales, in that all but one of the stories are led by women, and are from mostly female perspectives. So these are heroine’s journeys – and occasionally villainess’ journeys, rather than told from the point of view that such stories are usually told.

Although the one story that is told from a male perspective, The Last Dignity of Man, while it was not among my favorites was one of the most purely lonely stories I have ever read. It was so sad and so heartbreaking and had so much possibility but the monsters, and there certainly were monsters, were more disgusting than scary, not that they weren’t scary too. Still, the idea of someone emulating a supervillain in the hopes that a superhero would arise to thwart them, just like in the comic books, was a great idea that I’d love to see explored more fully with less puking. Seriously.

The Tangleroot Palace reminded me just why I loved this author so much, and has made me resolve to get stuck into Monstress at the earliest opportunity!

Review: Reality and Other Stories by John Lanchester

Review: Reality and Other Stories by John LanchesterReality and Other Stories by John Lanchester
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Genres: horror, short stories
Pages: 192
on March 9, 2021
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Ghost stories for the digital age by the Booker Prize–longlisted author of The Wall.
In 2017, inspired in part by Henry James’ The Turn of the Screw, the acclaimed English novelist John Lanchester published a ghost story in The New Yorker. "Signal," an eerie story of contemporary life and the perils of technology, was a sensation among readers—and since then Lanchester has written several more.
Reality and Other Stories gathers the best of these, taking readers to an uncanny world familiar to fans of The Twilight Zone or Black Mirror. Household gizmos with a mind of their own. Mysterious cell-phone calls from unknown numbers. Reality TV shows and the creeping suspicion that none of this is real…
Reality and Other Stories is a book of disquiet that captures the severe disconnection and distraction of our time.

My Review:

If you like the kind of horror that is featured in The Twilight Zone, those stories where it doesn’t exactly feel like horror until that sudden twist at the end – “It’s…it’s a cookbook!”

So rather than being in your face – or in your roiling stomach – this is a collection where the stories kind of sidle up to their horror aspects, give it a nod, nod, wink, wink, and then wham just before you turn the page to the next story.

And a couple lay an egg. But then that’s true for any collection where even when the concept as a whole has a lot of appeal to a lot of readers, one or two stories don’t work for everyone. And usually not the same one or two stories either.

The first story, “Signal”, was one of my favorites in the set. It’s kind of a haunted house story, and it manages to be both creepy and sad at the same time. The ending was kind of Sixth Sense in more ways than one, and also, I just love stories where it seems like it’s going one way but then the sadness just slaps you at the end, as it does here.

“Charity”, the last story in the collection, was the one that contained the most outright horror aspects, and also felt like it threw itself back to some of the classics like Lovecraft. At the same time, it’s a bit more like revenge on Lovecraft rather than homage, as the cursed object that forms the center of the story is an instrument of revenge by people who Lovecraft would never have given the time of day. “Charity” is also a story whose plot is fairly easy to predict from the opening but still manages to chill the reader at the end.

The story that is sticking with me is “We Happy Few” because it honestly scared me twice, once in its implications and then again in its result. Howsomever, from other reviews of this book it seems that this story did not resonate with a lot of readers, and I kind of understand why. The characters in the story are extremely unlikeable. At the surface level, this is about a bunch of junior academics sitting in a coffee shop complaining about absolutely everyone around them. Their observations are, for the most part, no deeper than a teaspoon. And yet, when one of them posits that the reason that the world seems to be getting crazier – and it really is if you consider things like Trump, Brexit and the COVID mask deniers and the anti-vaxxers – is that social media is designed as a system to appeal to the worst part of human nature and to ultimately make people less clear thinking and less intelligent. Which is a very scary thought in real life. In the story, the implications were instantaneous. And kind of awful.

While on the one hand it couldn’t have happened to a more deserving bunch of people, on the other, it’s more than a bit chilling.

Escape Rating C: Out of a collection of eight stories, the three listed above were the ones that I either enjoyed or that stuck with me or a bit of both. Of the other five, I thought that “Coffin Liquor”, “The Kit” and the title story “Reality” were okay but not more than that. Also “Reality” absolutely confirmed my conviction that reality TV shows are one of the circles of Hell.

I think that a lot of people are going to find “Cold Call” really chilling, but I got annoyed with it, or with the actions of the characters in it, at the very beginning and just couldn’t stick with it. “Which of These Would You Like?” didn’t have enough setup or enough detail to work for me. It’s weird rather than horrifying and there just wasn’t enough there, there.

Everyone’s reading mileage is going to vary on this one, so if you like Twilight Zone-esq horror, give this a try.

Last but not least, the UK cover at left has a completely different vibe from the US cover. The US cover feels like it touches more on the SFnal aspects of the stories, while the UK cover has more of a horror feel to it. And your mileage may vary about that as well.

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona Davis

Review: Stories from Suffragette City edited by M.J. Rose and Fiona DavisStories from Suffragette City by M.J. Rose, Fiona Davis, Kristin Hannah
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: hardcover, ebook, audiobook
Genres: historical fiction, short stories
Pages: 272
Published by Henry Holt and Co. on October 27, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A collection of short stories from a chorus of bestselling writers all set on the same day, October 23, 1915, in which over a million women marched for the right to vote in New York City with an introduction by Kristin Hannah.
Stories From Suffragette City is a collection of short stories from the leading voices in historical fiction that all take place on a single day. The day one million women marched for the right to vote in New York City in 1915. A day filled with a million different stories, and a million different voices longing to be heard. Taken together, these stories from writers at the top of their bestselling game become a chorus, stitching together a portrait of a country looking for a fight, and echo into a resounding force strong enough to break even the most stubborn of glass ceilings.With stories from:Lisa Wingate, M. J. Rose, Steve Berry, Paula McLain, Katherine J. Chen, Christina Baker Kline, Jamie Ford, Dolen Perkins-Valdez, Megan Chance, Alyson Richman, Chris Bohjalian and Fiona Davis

My Review:

Forget, if you can, the David Bowie classic song, Suffragette City, because the song wasn’t about these suffragettes, in spite of the title. And in spite of the song being the first thing that popped into my head when I read the title. To the point where I have an earworm.

But this book is something entirely different.

On October 23, 1915, 105 years ago today, between 25,000 and 60,000 women marched through the streets of New York, in front of at least 100,000 spectators lining the streets, blocking traffic and generally grinding the entire metropolis to a screeching and sometimes cheering halt.

The Five-Mile Suffrage Parade of 1915 (AP Photo)

New York State was just about to vote on a referendum that would allow women the right to vote. The parade was intended to draw concentrated attention to the referendum, to provide a clear and incontrovertible testament that women were political and should be granted the right to vote.

Not all women agreed. And certainly not all men, who would be the ones doing the actual voting, for or against. As it turned out, mostly against. The referendum failed in 1915. It succeeded in 1917. The Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, whose centenary occurred earlier this year, gave all women the right to vote, even if it didn’t – and still doesn’t – mean that all women are actually able to vote.

Nevertheless, the October 23, 1915 parade was a watershed moment. And this collection of short stories that all take place on that day, within and surrounding that parade, tells the story of that moment and the women who were a part of it, through fictional perspectives from all sides, from the rich and famous – and occasionally infamous – Alva Vanderbilt Belmont to NAACP co-founder Ida B. Wells to Irish and Armenian immigrants to a young niece of the storied Tiffany family.

These are not any of their stories in their entirety. Rather, they are the stories of actions on that one, singular day, the thoughts, feelings and struggles that brought them to the parade, and the joy and occasional heartbreak that surrounded both its triumphs and its failures.

Escape Rating A-: It’s time to talk about the stories themselves.

This is one of those times when ALL the stories in the collection are just terrific. And that feels rare in collections. After all, not every style agrees with every reader. But this time, with its emphasis on this one day and all of the thoughts and feelings surrounding it, works. (If the concept of stories around a significant historical event appeals to you, Fall of Poppies, focusing on the cessation of the hostilities of World War I on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month is also very lovely and well worth a read on this coming, or any other Veterans Day.)

Back to the stories. Although I will say that the differing perspectives that these stories focus on do lead the reader down plenty of mental and emotional byways. The day may have been singular, but the perspectives on it certainly were not. That’s what makes the collection as a whole so fascinating.

Many of the stories deal with women’s responses to the men in their lives who are either against the idea of women’s suffrage or just think that marching is unseemly and unsafe, and that women are delicate flowers that need protection from the dirty scrum that is politics.

Two of the particularly excellent stories on this topic are A First Step by M.J. Rose and Deeds Not Words by Steve Berry. A First Step also introduces the character of young Grace Tiffany, who flits through almost every story in the book. But in this first story about her, she and her aunt Katrina are planning to march in the parade, even though Grace’s uncle, Charles Tiffany, thinks it’s too dangerous and thinks he’s succeeded in convincing little Grace. He hasn’t. In the end, Grace convinces him.

There are also several stories that focus on the women who were, in one way or another, not welcome in this parade of mostly privileged white women. Ida B. Wells isn’t there. Rather, in Dolen Parkins-Valdez’ story, American Womanhood, Wells is in Chicago, speaking to a group of black women about the issues they face being subject to both racial prejudice and misogyny, expected to always do the most while receiving the least benefits. And as she speaks she remembers her own treatment at the Washington march in 1913, where the genteel southern ladies who had taken over control of the movement refused to let her or any other non-white women march with the main parade. And where Wells did it anyway.

The story that moved me the most was Just Politics by Chris Bohjalian. This story is an immigrant’s story, told from the point of view of Ani, an Armenian woman who has become a teacher in New York. But Ani came to New York during the years of the Armenian Genocide by the Turkish government just before World War I. Everyone around her tells her that the march is “just politics” but Ani has first hand experience of exactly how terrible and deadly “just politics” can become. Her perspective, that combination of hope with bitter, bitter experience, provides a leavening that makes her story just rise.

So, read this collection for its marvelous stories, and for its kaleidoscope of perspectives on what that day, the cause of women’s suffrage, and the cause of equal rights in general and not just the specific. And think about how many times that tide has risen and fallen and just how much is still left to fight for.

And then, if you have not already done so, go out and vote. It’s a right that was hard won, and it demands that we exercise it.

Review: ‘Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway

Review: ‘Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford + Guest Post + Giveaway'Nother Sip of Gin by Rhys Ford
Format: eARC
Source: author
Formats available: ebook
Genres: contemporary romance, M/M romance, short stories
Series: Sinners #7
Pages: 190
Published by Dreamspinner Press on August 18, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKobo
Goodreads

For Crossroads Gin rock stars Miki, Damien, Rafe, and Forest, life is a Möbius strip of music, mayhem, and murder. Through it all, the sweet, hot moments between tours with lovers, friends, and family keep them sane, healthy, and happy.
This Sinners collection features short stories spanning the entire series, from before the first note to after the lights go out.
['Nother Sip of Gin features bonus shorts finally together in one volume as well as four new Sinners Gin stories, combining classic foundational pieces with newly written material.]

My Review:

This collection is lagniappe for lovers of the Sinners series. It’s a little gift that we had no reason to expect, but are oh so happy to receive. And it’s absolutely yummy from beginning to end.

Some are even brand new, which makes it an even bigger present. The stories are certainly new to me and I’m thrilled to have them all together. Of course, new and old, they are all great stories.

This is a collection of little slices of life of the members of Crossroads Gin and the men who love them. They are interstices. Places between. Things that take place before, between and after the books in the series, or in one truly memorable case, right alongside.

The stories also contain hints of Rhys’ other series. Not deep dives into their past or present, but just enough to make a regular reader of her work realize that many of her contemporary series take place in the same world. Enough to tease but not enough to torment.

Still, this is definitely a collection for the fans. Because we care about these characters, and have missed them now that their story seems to be over and they have all managed, by hook, by crook and mostly by miracle, to have found their happily ever afters.

For those of us who have followed the series, this is a visit with old friends, sitting around, swapping stories. Except that they have all the best stories and we’re just listening in.

As great as it is – and it is terrific – to glimpse a bit of Miki and Damien before they became famous, or to peek into Miki and Kane’s happy ever after, My favorite story in the book, hands and paws down, is Hair of the Dog. Because Dude, the dog who adopted Miki just before the series opens, tells the entire story of the first book, Sinner’s Gin, from his rather unique perspective. After all, Dude is the one responsible for bringing Miki and Kane together, and he has a lot to say about how it happened. He’s also one smart and savvy dog.

Escape Rating A: Lovers of this series are going to be all in for this collection. We’ll all probably have our own favorites, but the whole of it is just a great time. If you’re not already a fan of the series, this is not the place to start. Start with Sinner’s Gin and get swallowed up by the lost band and the found family that forms the backbone of the series. It’s a marvelous wild ride from beginning to end!

Guest Post from Rhys + Sinner’s Calling

Never thought I’d be back on the road with these guys again but … here we are. And nothing makes me happier than to take to the pages with the Sinner Boys all over again. ’Nother Sip of Gin came from a friend asking me if I’d ever consider pulling together some of the blog spots I’d done into a book they could read on their Kindle. I’ve held that possibility in my head for a while and then I got the time and space to pull not only the foundational stories I’d already shared but a few brand new stories I’ve always wanted to explore, short bits of emotions and life moments I’ve enjoyed pulling together. I’ve included long stories like Hair of the Dog and a few others because well, they were fun to write in the past but also provided a solid base for so much of the Sinners lore.

For this blog tour I wanted to take a bit of time to talk about five lyric snippets and how they connect to the characters as well as the meaning behind a few of them. It was great to go through the anthology and once again visit with the guys. I’ll be writing a novella about Connor and Forest in the near future so this trip down memory lane has been a great revisit with old friends, reacquainting me with their voices, quibbles, and most of all, their lives.

Bled onto my hand,
Shoved his fist into mine
Stood tall against anyone
Who’d break through our line

No matter what they do
No matter what they say
Death’s already tried to part us
And we’ve already made him pay

So lift a glass to the Sinners
Lift a glass of cheap ass gin
Put your lips on the Gates of Heaven
‘Cause we’re taking you to sin.
Sinners’ Calling


I’m actually going to end this blog tour where everything started — Damien and Miki.

When I first envisioned the series, I started with the image in my head of a shattered, broken-down musician who was angry at the world. The prologue to the series came to me before any of the details or other characters in Sinners Gin. I knew what Sinjun lost before Kane ever knocked on his door. I knew somewhere out in the universe was a soul that balanced out my complicated, slightly antisocial warrior-poet. This person would be his equal in musicianship but his opposite in personality. In a lot of ways, it was imperative to take away Miki’s balance, his dependence on one person he held in his heart in order for him to understand there was room there for someone else.

Dude was pretty much training wheels for Miki and his growing trust in letting himself feel. Despite every denial of the dog belonging to him, Dude was an integral part of his life. The terrier became the reason for Miki to get up in the morning, to make sure there was food, and even to make sure there was some play time. His world had become cloaked shadows and he could no longer sense the sand slipping away through the hourglass. Dude became a marker of time as well as a portal back to an engagement in life for Miki.

He also became an important piece of Miki’s heart he was willing to defend when a blue-eyed Irish cop pounded on his front door.

I also imagined Damien to be much more charismatic and kind of the salesman in a way. He is a driving force behind the band, as much of a part of its engine as Miki with a clear vision of where he wants to be. What I’ve never had the chance to explore and really it’s a pretentious luxury to do so, is simply writing about the two of them being together for no purpose other than being together. That brotherhood is really what I wanted to capture because I wanted to show two men who have a deep connection but weren’t blood related. They have fought — and probably will continue to fight — about big things and little things but their love for one another is unwavering. There never should have been a moment when the reader would wonder if one of them would walk away. That was very crucial.

In a lot of ways, Miki’s relationship with Damien and how they communicated helped forge his relationship with Kane. For all of his lack of social skills, Miki is able to love fiercely and understand compromise and open discourse is truly the only way to have a relationship. He knows you don’t purposely hurt the people closest to you and in a world where too many people believe just because someone loves them gives them the freedom to be sarcastic or mean because they believe they’ll be forgiven, Miki’s foundational understanding about taking care of the other person’s emotional health makes it easier for him to deal with all the conflicts he and Kane have to face.

With Damien woven so deeply into Miki’s psyche, I knew I needed to write Sinners Gin in such a way that the reader could feel the pain of Miki’s loss but without the specter of Damien standing between Miki and Kane. I think in some way Miki’s anger waking up alone in a hospital, having lost everything in his life but his body, made it easier to develop his relationship with Kane. In no way did his growing affection minimize his love for Damien who was his brother and Kane, having brothers himself, clearly understood the significance of Damie in Miki’s life. Without Damien, Miki probably would’ve never discovered music and his innate talents to create it. He never would’ve had the subspace of being on stage, unfurling the part of himself he kept very down deep inside of him, that slinky sensual creature who loved to dance in the lights and growl around words he found in his soul. So no matter what Kane thought of Damien, he understood how important he was to Miki.

And of all the scenes that I’ve ever written, I will readily admit the one where Damien and Miki find each other again — in the middle of a noisy Morgan kitchen — was one of the hardest emotion-filled silences I’ve ever had craft. It was a delicate balance of disbelief, hope, and reignited love to capture in words and I wasn’t sure if I would ever be able to communicate that caught-on-the-edge-of-the-universe breathlessness they both shared.

You see, for Miki and Damien… they weren’t in that kitchen. They were nowhere near the Morgan household. The men they loved were not nearby. In that moment, it was the early morning hours in a misty Chinatown alleyway, the air carrying the smell of spicy noodles with a metallic hint of iron flakes from an aging fire escape. Between them, the fading notes of an old Janis Joplin song and Damien had just discovered a broken-winged angel waiting for him outside of a failed gig.

That’s what this song is about. Hell, that’s what this whole series is about and no matter where they go, it will always have each other — Miki and Damien are as eternal as the stars just like the love they have for the men they found along the way.

Follow the ‘Nother Sip of Gin Tour for more lyrics and more giveaways!

About Rhys Ford

Rhys Ford is an award-winning author with several long-running LGBT+ mystery, thriller, paranormal, and urban fantasy series and is a two-time LAMBDA finalist with her Murder and Mayhem novels. She is also a 2017 Gold and Silver Medal winner in the Florida Authors and Publishers President’s Book Awards for her novels Ink and Shadows and Hanging the Stars. She is published by Dreamspinner Press and DSP Publications.

She’s also quite skeptical about bios without a dash of something personal and really, who doesn’t mention their cats, dog and cars in a bio? She shares the house with Harley, a grey tuxedo with a flower on her face, Badger, a disgruntled alley cat who isn’t sure living inside is a step up the social ladder as well as a ginger cairn terrorist named Gus. Rhys is also enslaved to the upkeep of a 1979 Pontiac Firebird and enjoys murdering make-believe people.

Rhys can be found at the following locations:

Blog: www.rhysford.com
Facebook: www.facebook.com/rhys.ford.author
Facebook Group: Coffee, Cats, and Murder: https://www.facebook.com/groups/635660536617002/
Twitter: @Rhys_Ford

~~~~~~ GIVEAWAY ~~~~~~

And as usual, there is a giveaway! Please enter to win a $20 gift certificate to the etailer of your choice and be sure to hit up every blog stop to enter every giveaway! Never say no to books. grins

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Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth Schneyer

Review: Anthems Outside Time by Kenneth SchneyerAnthems Outside Time and Other Strange Voices by Kenneth Schneyer
Format: eARC
Source: publisher
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: fantasy, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 372
Published by Fairwood Press on July 14, 2020
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

Curator's notes from an art exhibition. Exam questions. A children's social-studies textbook. An end-user license agreement from God. From Nebula-nominated author Kenneth Schneyer comes this collection spanning the range from fantasy to science fiction to horror to political speculative fiction. Representing more than a decade of work, these 26 weird, disorienting stories will accost your expectations while relocating your heart. This volume includes such celebrated works as "Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer," as well as two stories never before published.

My Review:

When I read this collection a few weeks ago, I found myself astonished all the way around. And I mean that in the best way possible.

That very pleasant surprised was on two counts. The first being that short story collections usually aren’t my favorite thing. I tend to find them a mixed bag at best, with some strong stories mixed with at least one or two that missed the boat – or in this case the rocket ship – completely. That didn’t happen here. At All. Every story hits its mark – sometimes with a bang. And occasionally – when completely appropriate to the story – with a whimper. Usually on the part of the reader. A kind of contented, contemplative “OH!”

That the collection was written by an author I hadn’t heard of before – in spite of the Nebula nomination – was the second thing that surprised me. I wouldn’t have picked up a collection of something I don’t normally care for by an author I don’t otherwise know without receiving it as an assignment from somewhere.

In this particular case, an assignment from Library Journal. But I loved this book so hard that I felt compelled to signal boost it here, as many reviews in LJ are behind a paywall – although this review might not be. But here we are, just in case.

What I found so compelling about this collection was the way that it does something that SF and fantasy don’t always do well. So much of speculative fiction in general concentrates on the gee whiz of either rocket ships or dragons – or sometimes both – that it misses the human connection.

Not that I don’t love me a good hard SF story. Or for that matter a good time travel story or a good story about dragons either doing or done wrong or a big high-flown epic fantasy. Or a mix of all of the above – although that’s HARD.

But all stories written by humans are about humans, no matter what skin or fur or feather or metal they might be wearing on the outside. And that’s what this collection does so well, whether in its SF or its fantasy stories.

This author is great at letting the reader see the effects of the SFnal or fantasy elements on the humans who are our perspective on what’s happening. And that’s fantastic!

Escape Rating A: This author has what can wonderfully be called a somewhat sideways view of the world. A view that is certainly on display in that Nebula-nominated story, Selected Program Notes from the Retrospective Exhibition of Theresa Rosenberg Latimer. It’s a story told through the unusual lens of museum case notes. One of this author’s fascinating devices is to tell a story through something else, often something small like the tiny notes next to exhibit entries, and let the pulling together of the story in its entirety occur in the reader’s mind – as it does anyway.

(For the curious, the winner that year was If You Were a Dinosaur, My Love by Rachel Swirsky which was itself a nominee for the Hugo the following year. Eligibility periods for the Hugo and the Nebula are confoundingly different!)

The stories in this collection, those Anthems Outside Time, are not fluffy bunnies. Most of them come from the darker corners of the imagination, and all of them are compellingly readable.

The stories in this collection manage to be prescient, heartbreaking and provocative, sometimes by turns and sometimes all at once. They are stories for readers who want their SF and fantasy to make them think, and think hard, about the human condition. And they’re marvelous.

I’ll certainly be looking for more of this author’s work, starting with his previous collection, The Law & the Heart.

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil Clarke

Review: The Eagle Has Landed edited by Neil ClarkeThe Eagle Has Landed: 50 Years of Lunar Science Fiction by Neil Clarke
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via Edelweiss
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, science fiction, short stories, space opera
Pages: 600
Published by Night Shade on July 16, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonBarnes & NobleKoboBook Depository
Goodreads


The lone survivor of a lunar crash, waiting for rescue in a solar powered suit, must keep walking for thirty days to remain in the sunlight keeping her alive . . . life as an ice miner turns ugly as the workers’ resentment turns from sabotage to murder . . . an astronaut investigating a strange crash landing encounters an increasing number of doppelgangers of herself . . . a nuclear bomb with a human personality announces to a moon colony that it will soon explode . . . hundreds of years in the future, art forgers working on the lunar surface travel back in time to swap out priceless art, rescuing it from what will become a destroyed Earth . . .  

On July 20, 1969, mankind made what had only years earlier seemed like an impossible leap forward: Apollo 11 became the first manned mission to land on the moon, and Neil Armstrong the first person to step foot on the lunar surface. While there have only been a handful of new missions since, the fascination with our planet’s satellite continues, and generations of writers and artists have imagined the endless possibilities of lunar life.

The Eagle Has Landed collects the best stories written in the fifty years since mankind first stepped foot on the lunar surface, serving as a shining reminder that the moon is a visible and constant example of all the infinite possibility of the wider universe.

Table of Contents

Introduction

Bagatelle by John Varley The Eve of the Last Apollo by Carter Scholz The Lunatics by Kim Stanley Robinson Griffin’s Egg by Michael Swanwick A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis Waging Good by Robert Reed How We Lost the Moon by Paul McAuley People Came From Earth by Stephen Baxter Ashes and Tombstones by Brian Stableford Sunday Night Yams at Minnie and Earl’s by Adam Troy Castro Stories for Men by John Kessel The Clear Blue Seas of Luna by Gregory Benford You Will Go to the Moon by William Preston SeniorSource by Kristine Kathryn Rusch The Economy of Vacuum by Sarah Thomas The Cassandra Project by Jack McDevitt Fly Me to the Moon by Marianne J. Dyson Tyche and the Ants by Hannu Rajaniemi The Moon Belongs to Everyone by Michael Alexander and K.C. Ball The Fifth Dragon by Ian McDonald Let Baser Things Devise by Berrien C. Henderson The Moon is Not a Battlefield by Indrapramit Das Every Hour of Light and Dark by Nancy Kress In Event of Moon Disaster by Rich Larson

My Review:

Just in time for the 50th Anniversary of Apollo 11 comes The Eagle Has Landed, a collection of stories, set on the Moon, that were written sometime AFTER that historic voyage.

One of the interesting things, at least from the editor’s perspective, is how relatively few lunar-set stories there actually were, particularly in the immediate post-Apollo years. His speculation is that changing the first lunar landing from fiction to history moved lunar-set stories too close to a potential and seemingly reachable very-near-future pushed the concept out of science fiction.

And while we know from the perspective of hindsight that Apollo 11’s achievement marked the beginning of the end rather than the end of the beginning that we hoped for, no one knew it at the time. Possibly were afraid of that possibility, but didn’t know for certain. And hoped their fears were wrong.

Another possibility thrown out was that Heinlein’s classic, and at the time relatively recent The Moon is a Harsh Mistress (1966), had, at least temporarily, taken all the air out of the fictional lunar room and no one wanted to jump in after the master. Even though Heinlein’s attitudes about women seem antediluvian 50 years later, I reread the thing not long ago and a surprising amount of it still holds up. And the ending still makes me tear up.

But the thing that struck me about this collection, particularly in contrast with some of Heinlein’s pre-Apollo lunar stories, not just Moon but also Gentlemen, Be Seated and even in a peculiar way The Man Who Sold the Moon, is just how dark the post-Apollo stories are in comparison to the pre-Apollo stories.

There was a lot of hope in those earlier stories. Not remotely scientifically based as we know now, but a buoyancy of spirit. We were going to get “out there” and it was going to be at least as good, if not better, than the present. Even if it took a revolution to get there.

Escape Rating B: The first several stories in this collection are seriously bleak. Either the moon is a wasteland, the Earth is, or both. Those dark futures probably mirror the state of the world at the time. Having lived through the 1970s, they seemed more hopeful in a lot of ways, but there were plenty of clouds were looming on the horizon – and some of those clouds were filled with acid rain.

And as far as the space program was concerned, all the air had been let out of its tires after the lunar landing. The uphill drive to reach the moon had been exhilarating, but the downhill slide was pretty grim.

A couple of the stories really got to me in their bleakness, A Walk in the Sun by Geoffrey A. Landis and Waging Good by Robert Reed.

One of the other notable things about this collection is that, until Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s fascinating story, SeniorSource (2008), all of the stories were written by men. And that reflects the genre at the time. Female science fiction writers were thin on the ground until this century, as were writers of color – who are also singularly absent in the collection until that point.

I loved SeniorSource because it reminded me so much of the author’s Retrieval Artist series, which is also set on the moon (and which I now have a yen to reread). SeniorSource is a combination of SF with mystery, as is the Retrieval Artist series as a whole. But what I enjoyed about it in comparison with the earlier stories is that it’s a life goes on story. It’s set in a future that seems both plausible but not catastrophic. Life goes on, humans do human, and there is a future that is not bleak, but different.

From there the collection does look up. It’s an excellent sampling of post-Apollo lunar fiction, and a view of just how much the genre has changed over time. That being said, if you’re already blue, there’s a bit too much to depress you further in this book. But definitely an interesting read, and well worth savoring – possibly in bits to lighten the darkness a bit.

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat Rambo

Review: If This Goes On edited by Cat RamboIf This Goes On by Cat Rambo, E. Lily Yu, Aimee Ogden, Rachel Chimits, Cyd Athens, Scott Edelman, Jack Lothian, Gregory Jeffers, Conor Powers-Smith, Priya Sridhar, Andy Duncan, Lynette Mejía, Hal Y. Zhang, Nick Mamatas, Steven Barnes, Kitty-Lydia Dye, Tiffany E. Wilson, Nisi Shawl, Kathy Schilbach, Zandra Renwick, Chris Kluwe, Sarah Pinsker, Calie Voorhis, Marie Vibbert, James Wood, Jamie Lackey, Paul Crenshaw, Langley Hyde, Judy Helfrich, Beth Dawkins, Sylvia Spruck Wrigley
Format: eARC
Source: supplied by publisher via NetGalley
Formats available: paperback, ebook
Genres: anthologies, dystopian, post apocalyptic, science fiction, short stories
Pages: 304
Published by Parvus Press LLC on March 5, 2019
Purchasing Info: Author's WebsitePublisher's WebsiteAmazonKoboBook Depository
Goodreads

A bold new anthology born of rage and sorrow and hope. 30 writers look at what today's politics and policies will do to shape our world a generation from now. Some of today's most visionary writers of science fiction project us forward to the world of the future; a world shaped by nationalism, isolationism, and a growing divide between the haves and have nots. This anthology sits at the intersection of politics, speculative fiction, and American identity. The choices we make today, the policies of our governments and the values that we, as people, embrace are going to shape our world for decades to come. Or break it. Edited by Cat Rambo, the current President of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, the stories of If This Goes On invite you to worlds very like this one-- but just a little different.

Table of contents:Green Glass: A Love Story by E. Lily YuTwelve Histories Scrawled in the Sky by Aimee OgdenDead Wings by Rachel ChimitsWelcome to Gray by Cyd AthensThe Stranded Time Traveler Embraces the Inevitable by Scott EdelmanGood Pupils by Jack LothianAll the Good Dogs Have Been Eaten by Gregory JeffersThe Sinking Tide by Conor Powers-SmithMustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya SridharMr. Percy’s Shortcut by Andy DuncanA Gardener’s Guide to the Apocalypse by Lynette MejíaBut for Grace by Hal Y. ZhangHurrah! Another Year, Surely This One Will Be Better Than The Last; The Inexorable March of Progress Will Lead Us All to Happiness by Nick MamatasThe Last Adventure of Jack Laff: The Dayveil Gambit by Steven BarnesThree Data Units by Kitty-Lydia DyeOne Shot by Tiffany E. WilsonKing Harvest (Will Surely Come) by Nisi ShawlCounting the Days by Kathy SchilbachMaking Happy by Zandra RenwickThe Machine by Chris KluweThat Our Flag Was Still There by Sarah PinskerThe Editor’s Eyes by Calie VoorhisFree WiFi by Marie VibbertDiscobolos by James WoodFine by Jamie LackeyBulletproof Tattoos by Paul CrenshawCall and Answer by Langley HydeA Pocketful of Dolphins by Judy HelfrichTasting Bleach and Decay in the City of Dust by Beth DawkinsThe Choices You Make by Sylvia Spruck Wrigley

My Review:

I picked this up around the same time I received Cory Doctorow’s Radicalized to review for Library Journal. Just from the descriptions, it seemed that these two books either springboarded off the same event, were in dialog with each other, or both. (This is also a giant hint that if this book interests you that one will too!)

They’re not exactly in dialog with each other, but they certainly arose out of the same event – the 2016 election. Both are wrapped around the question about what the state of the US – and by extension the world – will be in the future if the hateful politics and policies that were given voice and force by the election of 45 continue into the future relatively unchecked.

That premise is explicit in If This Goes On, and implicit in Radicalized, but it is definitely there in both books.

They are very different collections, however. Radicalized consists of four novellas by a single author, where If This Goes On is a collection in the broader sense, of relatively short stories by 30+ authors around the single theme.

A theme that the collection is screaming about – loudly and with metaphorical expletives. As far as the authors and editor are concerned (and this reader) the policies of those elected in that mess are undoing much of the good that the US has done and are making both the country and the world into a worse place than it was.

None of the writers want the situation to continue – and have done science fiction’s usual excellent job of extending the present out into the possible, even plausible, end point of the contemporary mess in order to show just how awful things can be.

In the hopes that we will band together and do something about it before it is too late.

Escape Rating B+: My feels are all over the place on this one.

First, because it bothered the hell out of me and presumably will other people, the title of the collection sounds familiar because it is. If This Goes On— is the title of a novella by Robert A. Heinlein, a novella which would itself feel at home in this collection.

Whether the title of the collection is in homage or not, there is still plenty of resonance between the two.

This is not a collection to be read late at night, particularly with only the light of one’s screen to push back the darkness. Because there’s plenty of darkness in these stories. While some of them border on horror in the traditional sense, most of the stories give the reader the sense that they are looking at something horrible. And I was appropriately – and shudderingly – horrified.

There is some humor in some of the stories, but it is primarily humor of the “gallows” persuasion. These futures are all bleak in one way or another. While the stories themselves are excellent, the overall tone is fairly dark.

Each story is followed by an editor’s note that tends to hit that dark tone over the head with a baseball bat. The stories generally speak for themselves so that repeated emphasis felt a bit like being bludgeoned with the point of the collection – over and over again. I was already metaphorically bleeding so this was a case where the beatings didn’t need to continue until morale improved because it wasn’t going to happen. But there’s something about the reference to that t-shirt saying that seems appropriate just the same – possibly because hearing the news these days does feel a bit like that proverbial beating.

As much as I agreed with the authors’ and the editor’s perspectives, I’ll admit to getting tired of having it beaten into my head over and over again. YMMV.

These stories stand on their own. Sometimes swaying in the wind from the apocalypse, but they do stand. And the collection is well worth reading. If you read nothing else from this collection, look for Mustard Seeds and the Elephant’s Foot by Priya Sridhar – it’s lovely.

As the saying goes, in reference to the collection as a whole, “Read ‘em and weep.”