rowyn: (studious)
I heard a lot about this book when it was released two years ago; it's a contemporary young adult drama. I've read plenty of YA but I seldom read contemporary books of any kind. Still, I decided to put the e-book of this on hold at the library after I saw a trailer for the movie.

I am glad that I read this book after I started listening to the Fsck Em All podcast. Before I listened to Fsck Em All, I had a vague notion that the American justice system discriminated against black people. But I had no idea how common it was for cops (a) to straight-up kill black people for no reason and (b) that there were basically no consequences for cops for doing so. I'd heard about a handful of cases but I was a white middle-class woman and I thought they were aberrations. Nope. That's the norm. Happens every week. Cop shoots unarmed black guy. Cops release statement giving BS reason why this was justified. Cop is put on paid administrative leave. Initial statement turns out to be full of lies but the lies don't get as much attention as the initial statement so it doesn't matter. Grand jury usually does not indite cop. If he is indited, he's probably not convicted. If he is convicted, he usually doesn't get jail time. Cop is normally not fired. If he does gets fired, he's hired by some other police department and likely goes on to murder some other black guy for the crime of Driving While Black. This is not an aberration. This is the entire system.

Since I went in knowing that this was the whole system, things that might have surprised me or seemed unduly cynical were just "yup, that sure is the American what-passes-for Justice System." In a few ways, the book was less harsh than I had expected. (Spoiler: For example, I fully expected that the cops would try to smear the protagonist as some form of criminal, the same way they smear the murdered black kid as a "suspected drug dealer".)

The Hate U Give is centered on a specific incident of this systemic injustice: the protagonist is the witness when her friend is murdered by a cop. However, the book is as much about the protagonist's life in general as it is about her murdered friend and the subsequent fallout. Her friends, her school, her parents and her extended family all feature prominently. Her uncle -- who helped raise her -- is a cop. This is not a book about how all cops are bad. It is not even about how the cop who murdered her friend is bad. It's about a black teenager trying to find a way to thrive despite all the craptastic systems in place. And about community: how so many people around her are supportive despite the craptastic systems.

It's an excellent book, particularly in the sense of "accomplishing the things it is trying to accomplish." It's evocative of all the complexities and difficulties of its situation. It grapples with all the hard questions and has no pat solutions. And it has so much heart and love that it doesn't feel like a grim book despite how grim the inciting event and fallout all are. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed reading it. I would give it an 8 on my "enjoyed it" scale; if contemporary drama was actually a genre I liked it'd be a 9, I'm sure. Well done.
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I actually read a book! This is 100% not the book I would've expected to pick up and read in a weekend, yet Here We Are.

Marie Kondo is a Japanese decluttering consultant, and she's recently become much more visible after doing a Netflix reality show. But I first heard about her a couple of years ago from my friend Ciel on Twitter/Mastodon; Ciel has mentioned using the KonMari method for some time now. He remarked that a lot of the book is Marie saying "I did [X] once [or many times]! It turned out to be a terrible idea. Don't do that yourself." This approach -- that frankness in speaking of one's own missteps along the path -- sounded endearing and I decided to put the book on reserve at the library.

The Life-Changing Magic of Tidying Up is a surprisingly fun, quick read. Props to the author and her translator for taking the boring topic of "how to make your home a better place to live" and making it entertaining.

It's also way more persuasive than I expected. What makes the book special to me is less its tips on process and more "Marie Kondo will now give you permission to get rid of all that stuff you own and don't like and don't use but feel guilty about throwing away." Halfway through the book, I started laundry. As soon as my clothes were clean, I put the book down to dump the clean laundry, all the clothing from my drawers, and a chunk of clothes from my closet onto the couch and proceeded to weed out two-thirds of it. Felt great!

I don't know if I will have my life changed by this book -- it's a lot of stuff to go through, and a lot of the things in my house are Lut's and not mine. One of the charming things about the book, however, is the way it tells you to handle living with other people. "Don't worry about their things. Just take care of your own stuff and your own possessions. That's probably the real source of your clutter-related anxiety anyway." So I can separate out what's mine and go through it and if the place is still cluttered afterwards, that's okay.

Also, it made me realize that almost all the stuff in the bedroom is mine. Trask has his side of the headboard and a few things stored under the bed, but almost everything in their is mine to declutter. MWAHAHA.

If nothing else, I will have 3 fewer bags full of clothing I don't like and don't wear.

Anyway, fun book, recommended if you have a cluttered home and wish you didn't. Especially if you feel guilty for throwing things out. MARIE KONDO WILL ABSOLVE YOUR GUILT. It's great.
rowyn: (studious)
 I've read a few books without writing anything about them, so it's time for some quickie reviews.
 
The Corinthian, by Georgette Heyer: This one relies too much on coincidence and the romance is FAIL, but I nonetheless enjoyed it a fair bit. It's a fun romp sort of thing, with the female protagonist dragging the male protagonist into all kinds of scrapes, which he negotiates with aplomb. And he clearly needed someone to drag him out of his rut. It makes a charming buddy comedy.  As a romance, it's gross because the female protagonist acts like a kid and the male acts like a parental figure for the entire book. I am utterly unconvinced that these two will make a good married couple. SHUDDER. But, like most Heyer books, the reader can ignore the romance and just enjoy the ride, because romance is not a big part of the story. I'll give it a 7.
 
Arabella, by Georgette Heyer: This is the first Heyer book I just plain didn't like.  I dragged my way to the finish but lord, I detested the male protagonist. He is introduced in a way designed to make the female protagonist reader dislike him, and he doesn't noticeably change over the course of the book. Just yuck from beginning to end. The ridiculous schemes of the female protagonist didn't help the book any, but I minded her less. Most Heyer books are saved from lackluster protagonists by amusing side characters or other absurdities, but this one really didn't have any fun going on. MEH. It's like a 5.
 
The Flowers of Vashnoi, by Lois McMaster Bujold: A novella in the Vorkosigan universe, centered on Ekaterin. Like most of Bujold's writing, I enjoyed it. It's a story about the efforts of scientists to clean up the damage done during a long-past war, and the problems they run into in doing so. SFF that deals with healing and mending things is pretty much my jam. A solid 8.
 
 
rowyn: (studious)
Briarley is not so much a Beauty and the Beast re-telling as a fix-it fic. It's a short but lovely M/M romance with no sex, no Stockholm syndrome, and a father who refuses to trade his daughter for his freedom.

One of the protagonists is a bisexual Christian parson in WW II England, and the story treats his faith and his vocation seriously, which I particularly loved. With the parson's stance being "I don't believe homosexuality is sinful and here is my reasoning, but I am a flawed human like everyone else and I could be wrong." It felt authentic and respectful.

The dragon (ie, the Beast) protagonist wasn't as well-developed as the parson, which would've made the romance more endearing. But this was still a quick, fun read, with lots of good detail relevant to the setting. And not the standard "Nazis bad" stuff: bits about wartime rationing and German bombings of England and not using lights at night so the bombers wouldn't be inadvertently guided by them.

It's a good story. Check it out!
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I heard a lot about You're Never Weird on the Intenet when it came out three years ago, but didn't read it at the time because I am too cheap to buy ebooks from mainstream publishers for $10+, and I am out of shelf space for physical books.

But Lut has gotten back into the habit of checking out books from the library. While we were there to browse, I saw it in the "employee picks" section. I picked it up, and found Day's introduction charming and entertaining, leading me to read the rest.

The book as a whole is a fun, quick read. Felicia Day is delightfully nerdy; I was surprised at how familiar her escapades were, even though I'm ten years older than she is. She was a Puzzle Pirates addict at one point, having started perhaps six months or a year before I did. (I can date this because she mentions the distilling puzzle had just been added when she quit, and it was a recent addition when I started.) She was also an authentic WoW addict; the role she wrote for herself in "The Guild" is drawn heavily from her own life.

She also shares some good insights on the process of Creating Stuff, as well as how she handles various struggles in her life: with gaming addictions, depression, anxiety, and overwork. It's all written in a personable, humorous style. She has a way of laughing at herself that I found very relatable. The whole book is; I'd definitely recommend it.
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"Her Every Wish" is a novella sequel to "Once Upon a Marquess", although it is only very tenuously connected to it. It's about Daisy, the impoverished friend of the protagonist from the first book. I enjoyed it reasonably well. The protagonists were likable and both of them were poor, which was a nice change from the general "we are all wealthy titled privileged straight white people" that dominates historical fiction. In fact, the male protagonist is none of those things, which is extremely unusual. This is one of those "protagonists get back together after a falling out before story opens" romances, and the initial falling-out was pretty abysmal.  Still, I liked it on the whole. 

~

After the Wedding  was ... ugh. I have mixed feelings about it, and I'm trying to piece out what exactly made me end up as dissatisfied with it as I am.

So here's the good:

I read most of it pretty quickly; after an early false start, I chewed through it in under twelve hours and that includes the time I slept last night.  So obviously it kept me thinking "I want to see what happens next".

I found the protagonists interesting and their feelings for each other believable. 

The supporting cast is good. The reunion between Camilla, the female protagonist of this book, and her sister Judith, female protagonist from the last book, was the most heartwarming and affecting scene in the book. Of minor characters, I found Mrs. Beasley especially charming. 

The female protagonist is bi and the male protagonist is mixed race (black father, white mother), and as with "Her Every Wish" I found this reasonably well-executed and added variety I don't usually see in historical romance.

It's well-written. There are no rookie mistakes in pacing or timing, no characters who are underdeveloped or inconsistent, etc. If that feels like damning with faint praise, it is, but I have read badly written books and I want to be clear on  this count. There's a reason that my scale goes 1-10 and yet the worst I ever give is a 5, and that reason is "because I have started books that are SO MUCH WORSE and I don't rate those because I don't bother finishing them."

And now the bad:

Camilla's internal monologue was unbearable. Literally, I gave up on bearing it. I just skimmed every time the novel went on about what she was thinking. The tenor of her internal monologue changes over the course of the book, from "I am the worst person in the world and I deserve all the substantial suffering I've gone through and everyone will hate me forever" and to "I deserve to be happy and maybe someday I will get it but first I must martyr myself" and eventually away from martyrdom but by then Milan stopped bothering to write out her internal monologue. 

There was a lot of internal monologue before that point, though, and I found it all unpleasant to read and skipped a 4/5ths of it entirely. Usually I like wallowing in the characters' heads, so this is really saying something.

I found the circumstances that led to the wedding-at-gunpoint that kicks off this story equally miserable to read from the male protagonist's perspective. One of the reasons that I kept reading was that I wanted to see the mystery of "why these characters were forced to marry" unveiled (it's not for any of the reasons you'd expect, like "she was pregnant" or "they had betrayed any affection or intimacy between them whatsoever"). 

There is eventually an explanation for why the antagonists had forced the marriage. It's not particularly convincing. Both in that the motives seemed insufficient to merit this response, and that the response was not the best or simplest way to resolve the antagonists' perceived problem. 

All things considered, the "forced wedding" plot device is probably what ruined the story for me. It's used as the reason why the protagonists can't be happy together more than as a mechanism to convince them to be happy together. The sex scene was utterly spoiled for me because Milan put it in with the Plot Hook Of Damocles hanging directly over it, so instead of "aww this is sweet" my reaction was to recoil in horror and disbelief.  "Maybe the female protagonist is dreaming THAT WOULD BE BETTER."

Actually, this bugged me about the sex scene in Once Upon a Marquess, too, though to a lesser extent. But both books set up a situation where the protagonists have sex while one of them is withholding important information, and moreover it's information that could very possibly have made the ignorant party decide not to have sex if they'd known. It's seriously skeevy.  

On a minor note, there are a bunch of nudge-wink asides to modern problems: a multi-page scene based around making fun of the Nigerian prince* scam, a reference to mansplaining, a complaint about the lack of pockets in women's dresses, and probably another couple of things I'm forgetting. These aren't done in an ahistoric way, but I still found it twee and tiresome. 

Anyway, I am giving this book a 6, and it is easily the worst Courtney Milan book I've read. I still finished it, I will still read other Milan books, it's not the worst book I've read this year, even. But ... eyugh. What I like best about romances is re-reading my favorite parts, and there isn't a single thing in this book I want to read again. Sigh. It's not terrible, it's just disappointing.

* No, it didn't involve Nigerian princes or wire transfers, but same type of con.

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Once Upon a Marquess was on sale for $0.99 (still is, as of this posting), probably because Milan just released the third installment in the series, so I picked it up and then actually read it for a change. Unlike most of the books that I pick up on sale and then ignore in the endless unsorted pile of kindle books.

It was typical of Milan's works: well-written characters, good banter, one of the protagonists has a Dark Secret, and a fast-paced plot. It was somewhat less intense than many of Milan's books, which honestly I prefer. I am not big on high intensity stories. But I still read it in one day because I wanted to know how it ended. I mean, it's a romance, obvious the protagonists get together and live happily ever after, but I was still impatient to see it happen.

The best part about Milan's works is that her protagonists are all different, with unique strengths and flaws and interesting quirks about their personalities. I have some quibbles about the story (I consciously notice the beats in her book and this annoys me, which is not really a valid complaint) but I liked it enough that I plan to read the next one soon too. So I'm not gonna take this up with gripes. It's a solid 8.
rowyn: (Default)
I've read a couple of books this month:

The Signal and the Noise, by Nate Silver: This was a rare non-fiction read for me. I picked it up because it was on Bookbub and while I don't often read FiveThirtyEight, I've enjoyed what essays I have read by Silver. The book was interesting too, although I'm not sure I took away anything from it that I will use in my everyday life. Silver has a wide-ranging approach: the book is about forecasting in general, and so tackles a variety of areas where humans attempt to forecast from weather (surprisingly good at this!) to earthquakes (lol terrible) to the stock market to baseball and on.

I have a friend who often talks about future events in his own life in probabilistic terms: a 90% chance he will go on this planned trip, or a 50% chance that he will retire this year, or whatever. Reading Silver's book gave me a new appreciation for this approach, because Silver encourages the reader to think of forecasts in terms of probability and especially to think about uncertainty. Not only "what don't you know?" but "what don't you know that you don't know?"

He skewers one particular target in the housing market crash: the rating agencies. The two major rating agencies emerged almost unscathed from the mortgage crisis, despite being in large part responsible for it. Yes, banks made sub-prime mortgages to people with terrible credit, and people with terrible credit dove into the market, and Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac underwrote those loans, and other banks came up with the bright idea of selling them by bundling them together and re-dividing them into tranches.. But it was the rating who'd given triple-A ratings to the "least risky" tranches of these high-risk mortgages. They're the ones who said not "the housing market won't crash" but "these investments are safe even if the housing market crashes.".

(Narrator: they were not safe.)

Anyway, this was a scholarly book (so many footnotes!) written with a solid, engaging style. Easy-to-follow and interesting. If you are interested in forecasting or probabilities as applied to real life, it's an excellent read.

Sylvester: or The Wicked Uncle, by Georgette Heyer: As I've noted before, I find Heyer entertaining more as a humorist than as a romantic. This leaves me in the weird position of having enjoyed the book even though the romance utterly failed me. I think this is the first time I've gotten to the end of a romance and found myself wanting a fix-it fic where the main couple stays apart. The female protagonist, Phoebe, had a plan to write novels and live with her former governess as her companion, and I really feel like this would have been a much happier ending. The titular Sylvester isn't ... awful? Like, he takes his responsibilities seriously, and he has a sense of humor, and he can be agreeable when he wants to be. But he is arrogant, callous, manipulative, and temperamental. While he improves over the course of the book, he doesn't rise to the standard of "someone I would want to be around", much less "someone I would trust with my heart". Especially since he is STILL MANIPULATING Phoebe at the end of the book.

Phoebe deserves better, is what I'm saying. Granted, she's kind of silly and impulsive, but she's nineteen and she's a woman in this crapsack world that offers so few good options.

*pats poor Phoebe gently*

Anyway, I generally enjoyed the book up until the last 30% or so, when I found one of the plot twists kind of tedious and it had also become pretty clear to me that I was unlikely to warm up to the male protag. (Frustratingly, there were a couple of points where I thought the ending might do something to endear him to me, but nope.)
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 I read this as an ARC, and it's perhaps my favorite of the Dreamhealers series. It has a deliberate, unhurried pace, lingering on the lives of the characters. It revisits many supporting characters from earlier in the series, and introduces some delightful new characters. (Kristyl is my favorite! I hope for continuing adventures from her, or perhaps a prequel.)
 
As the title and cover suggest, there is some dramatic action in the book, but the story and conflict revolve around Vasiht'h and Jahir's relationship. I love the way they revisit some of the same kinds of problems they've had in earlier books, but from different angles, informed by their experiences. It feels like a real relationship, where problems aren't resolved forever because you resolved them once, and continue to arise in new permutations. 
 
A lot of the book has the feel of being on a long, relaxing vacation with friends and seeing astonishing, delightful locales and performances. This is handled beautifully, with enough things going on with the characters that I always felt engaged with the story, and not so much drama that I couldn't enjoy luxuriating in the setting.
 
Highly recommended!
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Golden Coils

They saved his soul ... now it's time to save her world!
When Bia is forced to flee the Mark Isles, Sir Kildare brings her to his native Dumagh to seek asylum. Bia knows Kildare feels indebted to her for her part in his salvation. But she loves him too much to want him bound to her by gratitude.
Since they banished Fiona Gascoigne's demon, they assume she no longer poses a threat. But there is a reason Gascoigne has never feared damnation, and her ambition and capacity for evil extends far beyond anything Bia or her son could imagine...

Author Commentary

Golden Coils is the sequel to Silver Scales, which I published in November. I imagine that does not make it "long-awaited" for most people, but I started to write this book in 2006. I have been waiting for this for a long time! I am delighted by the final results, and I look forward to hearing the reactions of readers.
 

Golden Coils
is the second book of the duology and concludes those arcs that were not resolved by Silver Scales. So if you prefer to binge-read series, now is the time to get them both! I may someday revisit this world, but the story now does not demand a sequel the way Scales did.

Silver Scales for $2.99!

Now is also a good time to get both because Silver Scales is on sale through February 2!

Other Stuff

M.C.A. Hogarth publishedBusiness for the Right-Brained so recently even she hasn't sent out her newsletter announcing it yet! This collects and adds new material to a series of essays she published on her blog some years ago. This is my very favorite business book: a book so delightful I read it with enthusiasm long before I made any efforts to make money at a creative endeavor. It is chock-full of good advice offered with kindness, consideration, and adorable jaguar illustrations.
 

This book, y'all. It is wonderful. I drew a mini-comic in tribute to these essays a couple of years ago:
 
 

That is how much I love it. If you are interested in creative endeavors or in business, this book is not only well worth reading. It is also just plain fun to read. *hugs her copy forever*
rowyn: (studious)
This book was billed on Twitter as "polyamorous fantasy romance", which pretty much tells you right there why I decided to pick it up.

It has a number of things I love:

- It's a bisexual-positive setting, with three different characters presented as attracted to multiple genders and it's neither controversial nor salacious to anyone else in the setting.
- There's an asexual background character who likewise exists without anyone thinking that asexuality is weird or bad.
- One of the protagonists is enby and once again this is presented as a fact no more noteworthy than being male or female.
- Polyamory is not quite so widespread: two characters wrestle with attraction without ever considering that polyamory is an option. But there's a background triad from one of the nations and again, their relationship is portrayed as reasonable and open, not scandal-worthy.
- There's the suggestion that one of the background characters might be trans (two women are described as having children together, but it's not explicit whether this is via magic or natural).

In any case, you get the idea: this is a queer-positive book which does not feel the need to deal with prejudice. "This is the way things are and everyone is fine with it." This approach is delightful and rare and I enjoyed it immensely.

Other upsides:
- Vivid, beautiful imagery in describing the magic
- Characters involved in an arranged marriage who react in a mature, responsible way
- Nuanced portrayal of a difficult, problematic relationship

On the downside:

- The book has some awkward infodumps, some of which are made worse by not even containing significant information (eg: several pages about different types of magic in chapter 1, some of which never come up again, and the list is not even exhaustive: other types of magic are introduced later, including a plot-critical form in the last quarter of the book.)
- The characters would benefit from more depth and development; one has the impression of characters who are much more complex and lively in the author's head than they are in what the author has managed to capture on the page.
- The writing sometimes sparkles -- there's a beautiful play-fight between the two female protags where they're just adorable -- but more often it feels stilted or overly simplistic.
- Contains many typos and editing artifacts, some of which are just weird ("98 nfo" after the end of a paragraph?) and misgenders the enby protag once, which is very understandable but did make me sad.

I enjoyed the book enough to finish it, which is a pretty high bar to clear in my case. There are lots of excellent, fun ideas in the story. I hope the author continues to refine feir craft and produces more books; there's a lot of potential here and I look forward to seeing more.

I agonized a lot over what to rate this on Amazon, and it's still hard to even quantify it here. I feel like the book is TRYING SO HARD, and catering to so many things I adore, but ultimately the author does not have the maturity of talent to capture feir vision. So it's like "A++ for effort, C- for execution". I guess 6.5? If you are thinking about picking it up, read the preview and if you're happy with it the rest is of the same level of quality. The book blurb is kind of a mess and the book itself is better than that.
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I read this book shortly before release, as an e-ARC, and just realized I posted a review on Amazon but never blogged it.

I enjoyed FROM RUINS so much I bought a copy so Amazon could keep it handy for me whereever I go. The novel brings plot threads from all five previous books in the series crashing together in a tumultuous, multi-faceted conclusion. I am particularly fond of several aspects of it:

* The book has several climactic scenes, each resolving different threads. Sometimes multiple threads are resolved at once, but resolution is difficult and messy and unfolds realistically, rather than in a single Hollywood-esque moment of triumph.
* There is lots of denouement, to explore the ramifications of all that has happened. This is a book about war on a galactic scale, and it encompasses many battles. But it is also about change and how to transform a poisonous culture into a healthier one. That latter involves fighting but the goal is not *accomplished* by fighting. I like how Hogarth addresses it as an ongoing struggle., both internal and external.
* The denouement includes lots of sweet, tender moments that are a well-earned payoff after everything the various protagonists have been through.
* I especially enjoyed the Queen Ransomed's arc. I liked the other arcs too but GO QUEEN *waves pom-poms*

There were some aspects of the book I didn't like as much; Sediryl's arc never really worked for me, and there were a couple of bits during one of the climaxes that didn't make sense to me. But overall, FROM RUINS builds on the foundations laid in previous books to make for a satisfying, engaging conclusion. Highly recommended!

On a related note, book 1 of the series, EVEN THE WINGLESS, is on sale for 99 cents. So if you've not started the series, now's a great time for it!
rowyn: (studious)
This is a charming Regency romance framed around the "woman presents as man in order to do things prohibited to women" device. In her case, she's impersonating a specific man after his death, so she and her female relations won't be turned out by his heir. I normally dislike this kind of device, but it's pretty fun here. Mostly this is because Millicent is hoot: she decides she's never going to pass as a fashionable or ideal man, so she sets her persona as a rattle: unserious, continually bantering and joking and being ridiculous. She is utterly delightful. Her male love interest, Shoffer, does not deserve her. The first 2/3rds of the book are wonderful, with most of the action dealing with various social problems, most unrelated to her ruse. Most of them are lighthearted and all are resolved by wit.

The last third is somewhat marred by the romance part kicking in. Shoffer's treatment of Millicent-as-woman is just ... meh. He feels typically misogynistic towards her, and it's in keeping with the period but not nearly as fun or appealing as his treatment of her when he thought she was a man. He improves before the end, but still.

Even so, there's a lot of fun stuff in the last part of the book, so well-worth reading. This was totally going to be a 9, but I'm downgrading it to 8 for wobbling on the ending. Nonetheless, had a good time, well worth reading.

Also, I kinda want to write a trans man story using the same kind of framing, but I'm not sure I have the patience to write in a trans-hostile, misogynistic setting for long enough to do so. -_-
rowyn: (studious)
Black Angel is one of the books in the SFWA Fantasy Storybundle! I was excited to read it, having heard good things about Gold's work, and my good expectations were rewarded. The novel contains a mix of genres: YA, slice-of-life, queer lit, furry, fantasy, science fiction, horror, and romance, not necessarily in that order.

I found it fascinating and immersive, a deeply believable book. Three different stories are woven together: 

* Marie-Belle, a bayou muskrat girl in 1916 whose family wants her to marry and who would rather be a vodou priestess like her grandmother.
* Hannah, a lesbian otter in a strict and grimly depressing Christian-cult future
* Meg, an struggling artist in 2013 who's questioning her sexuality and also her sanity.

The struggling artist, Meg, is compulsively and somewhat unwillingly drawing a comic about the first girl, and having vivid, life-like dreams about the second. Most of the book is about Meg.  There's also a strong supernatural element: Meg's closest friends have had experiences with ghosts and visions/life-like dreams. Meg leans heavily towards "they are crazy and so am I" when she starts having her own possibly-supernatural experiences. The setting is pretty Earth-like, with furry touches: eg, some of the otter characters have houses that incorporate pools or have submerged "floors", characters may have keener noses or ears depending on species, etc.

There is a lot else going on in the book. For example, Meg used to be on prescription anti-depressants and quit them because she felt numb of them. She now self-medicates with alcohol and weed (both illegally obtained.) It's a nuanced portrayal, which has both aspects of "this doesn't seem healthy" and "but it does help sometimes?" That goes for both the prescribed and illegal drugs.

I thought, from the blurb, that Meg was going to be "girl who thought she was straight and now thinks she might be lesbian or bi". But her starting point is more like "asexual??? straight??? Lesbian???? Bi??????? I DON'T KNOW". She is not attracted to anyone or interested in sex, but she kind of wants to be and all of her friends keep pushing her to "get out there! Experiment! How else will you knooooow?" I had the simultaneous experience of gaping at her friends ("what is wrong with you? That is a terrible plan") and also feeling like it was exactly the experience a lot of people go through. I didn't have this problem myself, even though I didn't meet anyone I was attracted to until college. But I know people who did.

The characters are vividly drawn and distinctive. Even the supporting cast has an array of different speech patterns and they're easy to tell apart. All three main characters feel like very different personalities, even when Meg and Hannah think they're each other's dreams. Most of the conflict in the book is driven not by evil or cruelty, but by people trying to do the right thing, or what they think they are supposed to do. Even the "Dangerous Spirits" of the series title feel like complex individuals who are acting rationally within their own belief system. (Which, y'know, does not make them less dangerous.)

One touch I particularly admired: Meg's part of the story is first-person past tense. Marie-Belle's story, which Meg experiences in a kind of creative fugue, is 3rd person present. Hannah's is 3rd person past. It's one of the few times where I've seen this kind of switch and not only thought "that's fine" but "oh, that works really well for conveying the differences in their narratives."

I enjoyed the book a good deal, especially the second half, where it picked up momentum and urgency. I have some quibbles with it, but most of why I give it an 8 and not a 9 is that the subject matter isn't perfectly to my tastes. Eg, the trope of "oppressed women whose society tries to forces them into marriage" is one I am pretty sick of.  Meg is prickly, defensive, and copes with problems a lot by putting them off or ignoring them, which I simultaneously relate to and also find exasperating. (Hi yes it me but it's STILL annoying.) She grew on me as the book went on, but for the first 20 pages I was iffy about her.

I am going to wrap this up with some things behind a spoiler tag, because they are spoilers but also significant to many queer readers. spoilers! )
rowyn: (studious)
Poison Kiss is a polyamorous fantasy romance, so you can pretty much tell right there why I decided to read it. :)

The story is about half romance and half action-adventure fantasy. The action-adventure half consists of the human protagonists dealing with truly evil, nasty faery folk from an alternate world. The story opens with two of the protagonists imprisoned in the faery world. The faery world is depicted as awful for everyone: worst for the enslaved humans, who have their memories obliterated and are transformed, toyed with, controlled, broken, and killed at the whim of their faery masters, or their masters' rivals.  But it struck me that even the faeries doing the imprisoning sounded like they had miserable, friendless lives full of pretense, backstabbing, and murdering or being murdered by one another. All of it is dressed up with beautiful backdrops, palaces, and fancy balls, but everything is joyless.

Fortunately, most of the book takes place "Earthside", although there is always the specter of being recaptured, and that specter is brutal and terrifying in a way that merely being threatened with death is not. The entire cast consists of people who survived faery enslavement, and everyone feels convincingly like a trauma and abuse survivor. This is well-handled: I didn't feel like the story was wallowing in it or trying to traumatize me as the reader, but I could completely relate to their fears and coping mechanisms.

Some of why the faery world is so grim is revealed over the course of the story, and is fascinating itself.

I am not a big fan of "brutal and terrifying magical world", as anyone who's read my work can probably guess. The fantasy plot was solid and well done, with the resolution of various arcs surprising yet logical. I had some minor quibbles ("why doesn't anyone at least suggest [obvious patch for problem]") but nothing serious.

The characters are loveable; I found the choice to make the male protagonist a naïf charming: it's a part men rarely get to play. And he is adorable and sweet, if less well-established than the other characters.

This is a love-at-first-sight book: the three protagonists form into a happy triad within two or three days of first meeting their third. I am not a big fan of love-at-first sight*, but that aside, they make a lovely, supportive triad and I enjoyed the HEA.

So on my "enjoyed it"scale, I'll give it an 8. No actual flaws, just a taste mismatch on tropes.

* Yes, even though I do write love-at-first-sight. Romance where the characters don't start out hating each other and gradually fall in love is hard, y'all.
rowyn: (studious)
Over the weekend, I finished my pre-first-reader edits on The Sun Etherium. I also added a thousand words or so to Golden Coils. I still feel like GC could use another read-through to catch editing artifacts.

I also felt like it was High Time I started on my Yes Really I'm Going to Read Books That I Did Not Write This Month goal. So I put aside Golden Coils and pulled out MCA Hogarth's latest book. And now it's time for a

BOOK REVIEW

Me: I'm too slow a reader to finish a book in a day any more
Also me: *finishes reading Dreamhearth in a day*

Dreamhearth is the third book in the Dreamhealers series, and the most pastoral of the first three. It continues to be the story of a happy asexual partnership between Jahir and Vasiht'h, esper xenotherapists. The overarching plot is "will Jahir and Vasiht'h be allowed permanent residency on Starbase Veta?" because the starbase has strong limits on immigration. The secondary plot is Vasiht'h coping with the sense of being technically an adult and yet not really feeling like a grown-up, which, yup, we've all been there, V. Then there are various subplots winding through it: side stories about their friends, patients, and rivals on the base.

It started out slow for me, with many "this is what life is like on a starbase so high-tech it pretty much feels like living on a planet" scenes. Once it delved into the stories of their patients and the existing xenotherapist community on Veta, however, I found it engaging. I loved watching the characters solve problems that were not life-threatening, but were nonetheless important. And when sometimes the "solution" is really more "here is how to cope with or make this problem less severe because it's never going to be truly solved." Problems I can't really solve, only mitigate, and that aren't going to kill anyone, are a big theme in my real life. It was lovely to see the impact of everyday problems acknowledged in an sf book. And I loved watching the characters cope with ordinary life and stresses, after getting through trauma and action-filled events in prior books. The prosaic problems are kept in proportion but not minimized.

The ending was a bit more twee than I would've preferred, but overall, I had a good time and would definitely recommend. I'll rate it an 8.

*

I am going to start another book today! It is a weird, weird feeling to deliberately not be either editing or writing. I may cave and do a little writing today. Part of me is absolutely convinced that I will never finish another draft again. Never mind that I've finished six books in the last three years, or that I've written 200,000+ words in the last twelve months, or that I have two different drafts that are two-thirds or more finished. That I've not finished a draft in the last ten months CLEARLY means I'm doomed. 9_9

Brain. Chill. It'll be fine. Nanowrimo's in three weeks and you will want to do all the writing then anyway. For now, relax. Here, read another book.
rowyn: (Default)
A Queer Trade and Rag and Bone, by K.J. Charles:
I'd thought that one of these was a short that was the prelude to a book, but it turns out that they're both shorts, maybe novelette or short novellas. They share a setting with her Charm of Magpies books, but involve new protagonists and a new romance. Like most of the Magpies books, there's a fantasy-action main plot and an M/M romance subplot. Because these are short, the romance is underdeveloped, especially in A Queer Trade. It's more about sexual attraction than connection. The second story, Rag and Bone, felt more convincing romance-wise. I did like that (a) it's a mixed-race relationship and (b) this aspect is understated. Another thing that I liked: it didn't give the men stereotypical sex roles based on relative size. A common trope in M/M romance is to have one protag be tall and muscular and one protag short and pretty and the tall guy is the top and the small one is the bottom and I am SO OVER this. SO OVER. And in this one you have a gay couple that doesn't like anal sex so they do other stuff and it's fun and I liked seeing some variety in preferences. Anyway, I enjoyed reading them overall. 7.5

Provoked, by Joanna Chambers
This was marketed to me as an M/M historical romance, but it's thin on romance and doesn't have an HEA. The main plot is the impoverished attorney protagonist helping the brother of a convicted client track down the government agent that entrapped him. The "romance" subplot is a couple of sex scenes between the attorney and a rich sexy Scottish lord he barely knows. Both men intend the sex to be a one-off, both times. Their few conversations are light on romantic connection and focus more on a kind of resentment of each other over the mutual attraction. The attorney is the only PoV character and at least half the chapters don't even have him interacting with his "love interest". As a romance, it was severely lacking. The entrapment plot was all right but didn't really engage me . Also, the main and subplots were linked together in a contrived way.

There are some sequels starring the sexy Scottish lord and broke lawyer, and I'd guess the last of these has the HEA one expects of a romance. I dunno, since I kinda regret getting the first one and am not getting more. It was okay, I guess. Competently written. I liked the attorney when he wasn't being boringly self-loathing. The attitudes on sexuality felt ahistorical. There's this notion that standard 19th-century attitudes should be "like Fred Phelps only more so" and it's not true to the period. The idea that sexuality is something you are, not something you do, is a 20th century one. Yes, sodomy was illegal and sinful and having people be horrified by it is reasonably in-period. Having people assume that someone who has a same-sex sexual encounter, ever, can never be attracted to the opposite sex, is not in-period. Anyway, Provoked made the KJ Charles stories look much better by comparison, though. This is like a 5.5.
rowyn: (Default)
This is a book on fashion in England from the Roman invasion to the present. The author's primary focus is on the most elaborate trends, and on women's fashion in particular. She does discuss some of the elaborate things men did in the name of fashion: codpieces, for example, which were often absurdly suggestive, and the trend of shoes with points so long they were hard to walk in. And powdered wigs that required hairbags to keep the powder off the wearer's clothing. But mostly it's women's fashion: farthingales and half-farthingales and ruffs and corsets and stays and crinolines and bustles and so forth. The author pretty much gets to Regency England, and says "Beau Brummel pioneered a relatively simple, clean look similar to the modern three-piece suit, and men's fashion has been boring ever since so it's all girls from here on."

It's interesting, though the narrow focus on "English middle and upperclass women" made it less informative than I would have liked. There's most of a chapter that is just "crinolines were freakishly dangerous clothing in the 19th century", primarily because (a) women of every class wore them, as opposed to the even more unwieldy farthingale, which was worn only by the upperclass and the (then very small) middle class of the 16th century (b) crinolines were made of highly flammable materials, and women are working around all kinds of open flames.

There is an anecdote about a woman deliberately wearing a bustle that had a mouse nest in it. She cut a little hole in it so she could feed the mice at the dinner table. I am pretty sure this is apocryphal but I am in love with this woman anyway.

There is a lot on the politics of fashion, and denunciations of various trends (also, sumptuary laws!) One thing I found interesting was that the author described some of the most extravagant trends in women's fashion as extremely unpopular with men. The ginormous skirts of crinolines and farthingales and panniers (in various different time periods), for example. Or, on the simple side, the straight silhouettes and short hair of the 1920s. That men decried these trends did not apparently deter women from wearing them, however. I wouldn't want to draw conclusions from one book, but it did reinforce my own belief that women dress to please themselves* and impress other women. Impressing men is not irrelevant, but it's not the dominant goal for most women.

* not to be confused with "for their own comfort".

Anyway, if you want to know about upper & middle class women's fashion in England from the16th century to the mid-20th, this is pretty good. Also good for some ancillary anecdotes on other trends impacted by clothing. (Thieves hiding their goods under the massive crinolines! Armless chairs designed specifically for farthingales!) For the rest of the time period and for men, it's got some information but not much. Other nations are only mentioned insofar as impact English fashion. It's written in an engaging manner with a good number of illustrations. It is clear the author did considerable research, but this is not a heavily-footnoted scholarly work.
rowyn: (Default)
I thought I'd already posted this review, but I can't find it so HERE:

"Who Is Willing", by MCA Hogarth

I was fortunate enough to be a first reader on this space opera novella, and loved it. This is a standalone story, which I say with confidence since I haven't read any of the earlier stories. it presents some fascinating insights on leadership that aren't usually touched on in sf-action stories. It's a thoughtful story about the ordinary problems of service in a military during a time of mostly-peace. Awareness that peace is not a permanent condition permeates the narrative, adding significance to it, and includes a well-executed action sequence. There are some well-drawn alien-aliens as well, but my favorite part was the relationship between Beringwaite and Alysha, which changed in interesting ways over the course of story. It has a slow and prosaic start, but once I got past the first couple of scenes, I had a great time with it. The resolution surprised me while still making sense, and I liked the emphasis on contemplative solutions rather than charging through trying to solve everything with brute force. I'll give it an 8.5.

"Mira's Last Dance", Lois McMaster Bujold

This is the fourth novella in the Penric and Desdemona fantasy series, and pleased me with its lack of violence-as-the-solution, and the way the characters look for smart, ethical solutions to their problems. There's very little use-of-force in the story at all, in fact, despite the central conflict being "characters trying to flee country without being captured and killed".

The first two in this series are standalone, but the 3rd & 4th should be ready together. Along with, I expect, the 5th, whenever it comes out. There's a romance subplot that runs through 3 & 4 and the ending of this one suggests it's not really resolved. Anyway, I liked it and still recomend the series. I'll give it an 8.
rowyn: (Default)
I read Frederica over the weekend. This is a romantic comedy set in 19th century England. Like the other Heyer novels I read, I found the comedy worked better than the romance. The orphaned 24-year-old female protagonist has charge of her three youngest siblings (12, 16, and 19), and one thing I particularly liked about the book is that the male protagonist's relationship with the two youngest is not an afterthought. He doesn't cultivate their affection or put up with them for the sake of Frederica. It would be more apt to say that the youngsters cultivate his affection and he finds himself powerless to resist them. Having found myself on occassion wrapped around some small child's finger and doing the most tedious things because they looked all hopeful at me, I can relate. :D The protagonists are both pretty likeable, and the male protagonist exerts himself to become a better man over the course of the novel -- but not because Frederica actively reforms him, which is another point in its favor. I like characters to redeem themselves rather than be coaxed to redemption by some outside force. The comedy in the novel is more understated rather than laugh-out-loud absurd, as in some of her other books. I'll give it an 8.

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