stuff I read

Dragon Pearl by Yoon Ha Lee

34966859Summary from Goodreads:
To keep the family safe, Min’s mother insists that none of them use any fox-magic, such as Charm or shape-shifting. They must appear human at all times. Min feels hemmed in by the household rules and resents the endless chores, the cousins who crowd her, and the aunties who judge her. She would like nothing more than to escape Jinju, her neglected, dust-ridden, and impoverished planet. She’s counting the days until she can follow her older brother, Jun, into the Space Forces and see more of the Thousand Worlds.

When word arrives that Jun is suspected of leaving his post to go in search of the Dragon Pearl, Min knows that something is wrong. Jun would never desert his battle cruiser, even for a mystical object rumored to have tremendous power. She decides to run away to find him and clear his name.

Min’s quest will have her meeting gamblers, pirates, and vengeful ghosts. It will involve deception, lies, and sabotage. She will be forced to use more fox-magic than ever before, and to rely on all of her cleverness and bravery. The outcome may not be what she had hoped, but it has the potential to exceed her wildest dreams.

This is the first Rick Riordan Presents book I’ve read and I would have loved to read a book like this when I was a kid. I was solidly a Trekkie (TNG 5eva) and this space opera would have scratched all the right itches. Dragon Pearl has so many great things smashed into it: Korean fox -magic, terraforming, space opera, politics, secrets, a dragon (!), a gender-neutral foodie cadet, an emo ghost, and a plucky main character who disguises herself as a deceased crew member (because shape-shifting fox-magic!) to infiltrate her brother’s starship. It’s also a great introduction to Yoon Ha Lee’s world-building style – his Machineries of Empire trilogy builds its galaxy in similar ways. I loved how he didn’t “softball” the SF elements just because the audience is middle grade. Lots of fast-paced plot and a compelling main character. I couldn’t put it down. I hope there are more books planned for this series.

For serious: I got into the hot bath expecting to read a few chapters (starting on p76) while having my tea but got to the last page of the book to find that both the bath and my tea had grown cold! 🙀

Dear FTC: I had to buy my copy of this book because I am not cool enough to get an advance galley.

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stuff I read

Five-Carat Soul by James McBride

34626370Summary from Goodreads:
The stories in Five-Carat Soul–none of them ever published before–spring from the place where identity, humanity, and history converge. McBride explores the ways we learn from the world and the people around us. An antiques dealer discovers that a legendary toy commissioned by Civil War General Robert E. Lee now sits in the home of a black minister in Queens. Five strangers find themselves thrown together and face unexpected judgment. An American president draws inspiration from a conversation he overhears in a stable. And members of The Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band recount stories from their own messy and hilarious lives.

I had a galley, but only finished the “Five-Carat Soul Bottom Bone Band” section before it expired. Womp womp.

So I finally caught back up with this wild ride of a story collection via Libby. Each story is so unexpected – a few are set during the Civil War period, a few in the 1970s, and the last novella-length piece is so amazingly inventive and set in a zoo (you have got to read it!). I had never read James McBride before (The Good Lord Bird is on Mt TBR I promise!) and his writing style is so wonderful to read. The way he manages to evoke a setting in just a few sentences is fantastic.

Dear FTC: I had a digital galley of this book but it expired so I finished it (over a year later) via the library’s Libby service.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy: A Reluctant Royals Novella by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2.5)

42117381Summary from Goodreads:
Alyssa Cole returns with a fun, sexy romance novella in the Reluctant Royals series!
While her boss the prince was busy wooing his betrothed, Likotsi had her own love affair after swiping right on a dating app. But her romance had ended in heartbreak, and now, back in NYC again, she’s determined to rediscover her joy—so of course she runs into the woman who broke her heart.
When Likotsi and Fabiola meet again on a stalled subway train months later, Fab asks for just one cup of tea. Likotsi, hoping to know why she was unceremoniously dumped, agrees. Tea and food soon leads to them exploring the city together, and their past, with Fab slowly revealing why she let Likotsi go, and both of them wondering if they can turn this second chance into a happily ever after.

It’s here!! I have been wanting a HEA for Likotsi ever since it became clear that she’d had her heart broken by someone halfway through A Princess in Theory. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy has one of my favorite tropes – second-chance romance – so I was in all the way from the very beginning. The story starts with uber-personal assistant Likotsi on her day off, on the subway in NYC with a list of places to see in her pocket (Likotsi never leaves anything to chance, it’s why she’s so good at her job). She gets a sudden text message from an old date, one that we only know didn’t turn out the way she had hoped. It turns out Fabiola is on a neighboring subway car and she would like to rekindle the relationship or, at minimum, end the relationship on a better place than it is now. Fab has a reason for ghosting, a really good one, and Likotsi has to decide whether she wants to cast her plans aside and trust to chance again.

I really loved meeting Fab, with her hopes and dreams and how she had to put it all on hold for her family, and getting greater insight into Likotski’s life. Now that A Prince on Paper is set for April, I hope we’ll get to see a little Fabiola during Ledi and Thabiso’s wedding celebrations. I gave it 4.5 stars out of 5 only because I wish so much this was a full novel.

Avon, as an imprint of a Big Five traditional publisher, has very slowly been expanding their romances to include authors who are not white and couples that are m/m and now f/f. What I would now like to see these stories presented as part of the main Avon line, rather than the Impulse line. Because look at that great cover! (A piece of trivia I read on Alyssa’s Instagram: the cover models are a couple in real life, which is the cutest thing I have heard in ever.)

Once Ghosted, Twice Shy will be available tomorrow from your favorite ebook retailers. (And if you’re a paper book reader, it will be coming to mass market paperback at the end of February.)

ETA: There will be a second novella, Can’t Escape Love, coming out in March featuring Portia’s sister Reggie, who is featured in her wheelchair on the cover. I think this may be the first time a character using a mobility device has ever been shown on a mainstream romance cover (I did a quick perusal of the major publishers, but not an exhaustive one).

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss like twice.

Reading Graphically · stuff I read

Abbott, written by Saladin Ahmed and illustrated by Sami Kivelä

38748572Summary from Goodreads:
While investigating police brutality and corruption in 1970s Detroit, journalist Elena Abbott uncovers supernatural forces being controlled by a secret society of the city’s elite.

In the uncertain social and political climate of 1972 Detroit, hard-nosed, chain-smoking tabloid reporter Elena Abbott investigates a series of grisly crimes that the police have ignored. Crimes she knows to be the work of dark occult forces. Forces that took her husband from her. Forces she has sworn to destroy.

Hugo Award-nominated novelist Saladin Ahmed (Star Wars: Canto Bight, Black Bolt) and artist Sami Kivelä (Beautiful Canvas) present one woman’s search for the truth that destroyed her family amidst an exploration of the systemic societal constructs that haunt our country to this day.

From my first round of Pigeon/TBR recs from Book Riot (thanks, Mya!).

Abbott is an immersive, one-two punch from Saladin Ahmed on story and Sami Kivelä on art that explores the racial politics of 1970s Detroit while also giving us a supernatural-horror plot. Elena Abbot as tough investigative journalist is a smashing lead character. Kivelä’s artwork is AMAZING, the colors, the combination of gritty realism and really trippy, psychedelic fantasy art was stellar (it’s a bit gory, though, so if you’re not into that then you might want to skip this one). The story hinted at some excellent backstory for Abbott that I hope Ahmed gets a chance to explore in future arcs.

Dear FTC: I bought a copy of this book after it was recommended to me through a paid program.

stuff I read

The Cutting Season by Attica Locke

13623785Summary from Goodreads:
The American South in the twenty-first century. A plantation owned for generations by a rich family. So much history. And a dead body.

Just after dawn, Caren walks the grounds of Belle Vie, the historic plantation house in Louisiana that she has managed for four years. Today she sees nothing unusual, apart from some ground that has been dug up by the fence bordering the sugar cane fields. Assuming an animal has been out after dark, she asks the gardener to tidy it up. Not long afterwards, he calls her to say it’s something else. Something terrible. A dead body. At a distance, she missed her. The girl, the dirt and the blood. Now she has police on site, an investigation in progress, and a member of staff no one can track down. And Caren keeps uncovering things she will wish she didn’t know. As she’s drawn into the dead girl’s story, she makes shattering discoveries about the future of Belle Vie, the secrets of its past, and sees, more clearly than ever, that Belle Vie, its beauty, is not to be trusted.

A magnificent, sweeping story of the south, The Cutting Season brings history face-to-face with modern America, where Obama is president, but some things will never change. Attica Locke once again provides an unblinking commentary on politics, race, the law, family and love, all within a thriller every bit as gripping and tragic as her first novel, Black Water Rising.

The Cutting Season is a very slow burn mystery, with so much backstory and character history and racial history and politics and economics packed into it. While Locke ties up the central plot of the story and the murderer is caught, many more questions are less-satisfactorily solved. Particularly that of the Louisiana plantation itself and it’s role in the 21st century as an event hall that offers a highly dramatized play about the history of the area to the tourists.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book at a library sale.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole (Reluctant Royals #2)

35564582Summary from Goodreads:
Award-winning author Alyssa Cole’s Reluctant Royals series continues with a woman on a quest to be the heroine of her own story and the duke in shining armor she rescues along the way

New York City socialite and perpetual hot mess Portia Hobbs is tired of disappointing her family, friends, and—most importantly—herself. An apprenticeship with a struggling swordmaker in Scotland is a chance to use her expertise and discover what she’s capable of. Turns out she excels at aggravating her gruff silver fox boss…when she’s not having inappropriate fantasies about his sexy Scottish burr.

Tavish McKenzie doesn’t need a rich, spoiled American telling him how to run his armory…even if she is infuriatingly good at it. Tav tries to rebuff his apprentice, and his attraction to her, but when Portia accidentally discovers that he’s the secret son of a duke, rough-around-the-edges Tav becomes her newest makeover project.

Forging metal into weapons and armor is one thing, but when desire burns out of control and the media spotlight gets too hot to bear, can a commoner turned duke and his posh apprentice find lasting love?

I downloaded the galley for A Duke by Default about the second it was available to reviewers and TORE through it.

I’ll be honest. Portia wasn’t exactly my favorite secondary character coming out of A Princess in Theory. She had a major blow-up with Ledi regarding being a bad friend so this book is a chance for Portia to redeem herself.  And Portia herself has plans – she’s going to work hard at this swordmaking internship in Scotland, swear off both alcohol and men, and figure out how to be an adult with a plan and a career.  Easy, right? Wrong. Especially when she arrives at the Armory, thinks she sees a woman being assaulted, and sprays the attacker with pepper spray – which means she just sprayed her boss who was sparring with his sister-in-law. And she was downwind when she pushed the button and, therefore, sprayed herself.

Oops.

Tavish really wasn’t into the idea of getting an intern, let alone one who appears to rich, brainless, and attractive as all get out. But on the plus side she rushed to a strangers’ aid, even if she bungled it. HOWEVER, Tav has no time for all this nonsense because the Armory business is doing poorly and he really wants to just focus on making good swords and helping kids in the neighborhood. Right? When Portia goes digging into the Armory history she changes Tav’s life forever.

Alyssa Cole is an evil, evil genius, y’all. I loved this second installment in her Reluctant Royals series. Like any good rom-com, the minute Portia swears off dudes for the foreseeable future, the hottest half-Chilean silver-fox with a delicious Scottish accent swordsmith turns out to be her boss (even if he is pretty pissed at her for a bit because she maced him) and it makes for really, really good tension and banter in the story. Portia herself goes on a journey of personal discovery in this book, working out some things about herself and reconciling with her sister. Fair warning, it does take a little bit to get to the “but he’s secretly a duke!” reveal but there’s a lot of #swordbae in the interim and a super-good villain to wrap up at the end. Only two things bugged me: 1) the novel concluded super fast without a lot of Tav and Portia together, maybe we could have had a wee Epilogue? (idk, I read a galley, so maybe it’s just not included here? I live in hope) and 2) Tav’s secret duchy is the duchy of EDINBURGH, which is currently Prince Philip’s title (yes, that Prince Philip, the old geezer married to Her Maj, QEII) and it dragged me out of the book every, damn, time it was mentioned (someone at Avon should have caught that; if an entire country could be created for Thabiso in A Princess in Theory, just pick a totally random Scottish city for Tav’s duchy).

But anyway, I’m looking forward to the next book in the series, which appears to have the scandalous Prince Johan and Nedi’s cousin as the couple, yes please. (Still waiting on Likotsi’s novella, kthanx.)

A Duke by Default is out on Tuesday, July 31.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

So Many Islands: Stories from the Caribbean, Mediterranean, Indian Ocean and Pacific edited by Nicholas Laughlin

40609543Summary from Goodreads:
Collecting new fiction, essays, and poems from seventeen countries around the world, So Many Islands brings us stories about love and protest, about childhood innocence and the traumas of history, about leaving home and trying to return. These writers’s island homes may seem remote on the map, but there is nothing isolated about their compelling, fresh voices.

Featuring contributions by authors from Antigua and Barbuda, Barbados, Bermuda, Cyprus, Grenada, Jamaica, Kiribati, Malta, Mauritius, Niue, Rotuma (Fiji), Samoa, Singapore, Saint Lucia, Saint Vincent and the Grenadines, Tonga, and Trinidad and Tobago. So Many Islands is the fourth publication of Peekash Press, an imprint of Akashic Books and Peepal Tree Press, committed to supporting the emergence of new Caribbean writing, and as part of the CaribLit project.

From the introduction by Marlon James:

“I wonder if it is because we island people are surrounded by sea, hemmed in and branching out at once, that we are always in a state of flux. The sea and even the sky are definers and confiners, they have spent millions of years carving space, while at the same time giving us clear openings to map the voyage out. And, today, to be an islander is to live in one place and a thousand, to be part of a family that is way too close by for your business ever to be your own, or way too far but only a remittance cheque away. Or, put another way, to be island people means to be both coming and going. Passing and running, running and passing, as the song goes. Living there, but not always present, travelling or migrating, but never leaving. Or what has never been a new thing, but might turn into a new movement: more and more authors staying put, all the better to let their words wander.”

Marlon says it better than I can.

A bookseller friend pointed me toward this book when I mentioned that I was going to put together a display of books set on islands (outside the US) for the summer. Such a great find.

So Many Islands is a wonderfully multi-layered collection of essays, poems, and stories from authors hailing from island nations around the globe, particularly the Caribbean and the Pacific. Many, if not all, of these authors will be unfamiliar to US audiences due to the small percentage of non-US literature imported to our shores. Literature can be a window and door into the world and this collection does that – look through it into those worlds and cultures you have not yet met.

So Many Islands is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.