mini-review · stuff I read

Noopiming: The Cure for White Ladies by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson

Summary from Goodreads:

Award-winning Nishnaabeg storyteller and writer Leanne Betasamosake Simpson returns with a bold reimagination of the novel, one that combines narrative and poetic fragments through a careful and fierce reclamation of Anishinaabe aesthetics.

Mashkawaji (they/them) lies frozen in the ice, remembering a long-ago time of hopeless connection and now finding freedom and solace in isolated suspension. They introduce us to the seven main characters: Akiwenzii, the old man who represents the narrator’s will; Ninaatig, the maple tree who represents their lungs; Mindimooyenh, the old woman who represents their conscience; Sabe, the giant who represents their marrow; Adik, the caribou who represents their nervous system; Asin, the human who represents their eyes and ears; and Lucy, the human who represents their brain. Each attempts to commune with the unnatural urban-settler world, a world of SpongeBob Band-Aids, Ziploc baggies, Fjällräven Kånken backpacks, and coffee mugs emblazoned with institutional logos. And each searches out the natural world, only to discover those pockets that still exist are owned, contained, counted, and consumed. Cut off from nature, the characters are cut off from their natural selves.

Noopiming is Anishinaabemowin for “in the bush,” and the title is a response to English Canadian settler and author Susanna Moodie’s 1852 memoir Roughing It in the Bush. To read Simpson’s work is an act of decolonization, degentrification, and willful resistance to the perpetuation and dissemination of centuries-old colonial myth-making. It is a lived experience. It is a breaking open of the self to a world alive with people, animals, ancestors, and spirits, who are all busy with the daily labours of healing — healing not only themselves, but their individual pieces of the network, of the web that connects them all together. Enter and be changed.

Noopiming is an incredibly interesting and thought-provoking work blending fiction with Anishinaabe storytelling. It feels almost experimental, the way the characters – who are physical manifestations of Mashkawaji* in the modern urban world – interact with one another. All the characters connect with one another in their search for community and a connection to the natural world, even as White Western culture swallows it up and covers it up with roads and garbage. There is a beauty in how unmoored this story feels, with no discernible “plot” – I had to work to put all the pieces together but it was very worth it. I definitely would like to check out more of the author’s work.

*Mashkawaji is not a god, in the way the Western tradition would define a god-like being, but more a representation of community and tradition held in suspension; they are hard to explain as a character outside of the narrative but when reading their introduction at the beginning of the book that was the feeling I got.

Noopiming is out September 1! (Note: I’m not sure if this date includes the US, since I can’t find any pre-order links at this time, but if this changes I will update.)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Like Lovers Do by Tracy Livesay (Girls Trip #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Tracey Livesay continues her fun-filled Girls Trip series with this romance that will tug at your heartstrings.

Sometimes faking it can lead to the real thing…

Driven and focused, Dr. Nicole Allen is an accomplished surgeon. With a tough past, Nic’s gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations. But when she disciplines an intern—a powerful donor’s son—a prestigious fellowship she’s awaiting is placed in jeopardy. 

Coming from a successful family who runs a medical business empire, Benjamin Reed Van Mont is the black sheep, having chosen to start his own business instead. Though he’s not ready to settle down, he knows when the time comes it definitely won’t be with a workaholic doctor like his friend Nic—even if she’s had him re-examining his edict…more than once. 

When Ben’s status-climbing ex-girlfriend finds her way back into his orbit, Nic proposes a swap of services. She’ll spend the week with Ben on Martha’s Vineyard, pretending to be his girlfriend—but only if he’ll have his family intervene on her behalf so she won’t lose her fellowship. How hard can the charade be? 

But as they’re about to discover, they’ve sorely underestimated their true feelings for each other…

For my 140th read of 2020 (which completes my Goodreads reading goal in August, woo!) I present: mind-blowing hammock sex.

That’s it. That’s the review.

Jk. But the first time Nic and Ben have sexytimes they do it in a goddamn hammock and this is the “can you have sex while on horseback” question of 2020 contemporary romance. It’s amazing. Tracy Livesay is a queen.

Ok, for realz, Nic is a rockstar chief resident in orthopedic surgery headed to a prestigious sports medicine fellowship and Ben has been her landlord and best friend for three years. Nic is career-driven and avoids long-term relationships, preferring short hook-ups, and Ben is balls-deep in love with Nic but doesn’t want a career-driven partner because his parents were awful about putting him second to their careers. Near the end of Nic’s residency, she reprimands a new resident (intern?) – rightly – for blowing off a Black man with health problems and a septic joint to go watch a [sexy] spinal-fusion surgery. However, Racist Bro Surgeon goes whining off to his daddy, who is a major donor to the hospital, and Daddy threatens not only the end of Nic’s residency but also her fellowship placement. Nic doesn’t have a lot of ammunition at her disposal to fight back – she’s a woman, she comes from a less-advantaged background, she doesn’t have a prestigious family name, and she’s Black. She’s a tiny, tiny minority in a very dude-heavy, dick-swinging surgical specialty.

She does, however, have an ace up her sleeve. Ben’s family the Van Monts have generational clout in medicine from generations of doctors. When Nic tells Ben what happened, he offers to ask his parents to put in a good word for her. It’s what friends do, after all, despite the fact that he a) refused to go into the medical profession and b) walked away from working for the family foundation to start his own financial advising firm. When Nic hears that Ben’s ex Tinsley has invited herself to a friend vacation with plans to get Ben back in her clutches – which Ben definitely does not want – Nic offers to accompany Ben as his girlfriend. [Note: I want to make clear – as Ben does in the book – that this is not a quid pro quo situation and that Nic is not obligated to fake date Ben so he’ll call his mom for her.] But while they’re on Martha’s Vineyard, fake dating leads to realistic kissing to maybe something so much more.

I love it.

Nic is amazing and smart and strong – and a much more communicative orthopedic surgeon than I’ve ever encountered because we’re working with some of them on a couple of projects and they’re all allergic to checking their email – and Ben is such a cinnamon roll. The trope at play might be Friends to Lovers but there’s really no thunderblot “wow, Friendo is hot now!” moment. It’s this slow realization that the love between Ben and Nic has existed quietly for some time and they have to take the risk that being intimate and opening up is worth it.

Around the developing romance are two really good examinations about family and relationships. First, through the elitist and racist actions of Tinsley toward Nic, Ben starts to examine his own blind-spots and unintentional microaggressions about race. It leads to him developing a better relationship with Nic and also with a new client at his firm (I kinda hope, given the way Livesay wrote a few scenes with this character, that he’s being set up for a future book because we aren’t given many details about him and I’d really like to know more). Second, both Ben and Nic have built their lives and careers in reaction to perceived choices made by each of their parents. So they, separately, have to clear up some misconceptions with the older generation before they realize they can make a life together.

Did I mention that I love it?

Content warning: Ben’s obnoxious ex-fiance Tinsley is the Spoiled Racist Barbie among the cast of characters in Martha’s Vinyard but you definitely don’t sympathize with her and wish the rest of the characters would just murder her and put her body in the Sound. Also Spoiled Racist Bro Surgeon, but he’s on the page less. [Spoiler: the racists get their comeuppance.]

Like Lovers Do is out now! Even though it’s a book 2, you can definitely read it out of order, because I have book 1 but haven’t read it yet (SORRYYYY) but definitely need to go read it now! And look at that pretty cover.

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

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Legal Affair by Nisha Sharma (The Singh Family #2)

Summary from Goodreads:

Rajneet Hothi built her empire with sweat, blood, and information. She knows everything there is to know about Ajay Singh, the future CEO of Bharat, Inc., as well as how crucial he is in securing her future. But she didn’t expect the passion that burst between them the first time they went head-to-head. She’d never felt anything like it before, especially during her marriage to her soon-to-be-ex-husband. When her company is blamed for her ex’s dirty dealings with Bharat, she’s forced to prove that Ajay is no match for her in the art of business or seduction.

Ajay shouldn’t trust Raj or her company. He’s on the verge of losing everything his family has worked to achieve, but he can’t stop thinking about the breathtaking way Raj opens her mind, body and heart to him. Throwing his infamous caution to the wind, he tempts the gorgeous CEO into his bedroom and boardroom. He soon realizes he wants Raj by his side and he’s willing to fight the people he’s always protected to be with her.

When Raj and Ajay discover the source behind Bharat’s leak, they must trust each other and work together to defy the odds and save the Singh legacy. 

I have been WAITING for the followup to Nisha Sharma’s The Takeover Effect. *eeeeeeeee*

Small spoiler: The opening chapter of The Legal Affair hangs on whether you remember what happened in the “foiling the hostile takeover of Bharat by this REAL trash company who got inside help from garbage family members” denouement of The Takeover Effect. So while you can read The Legal Affair without having read Takeover, however, go read Takeover because HAWT lawyers doing lawyer stuff and also having bananas-hot sex. You’re welcome.

Beginning aside, once I refreshed my memory Legal hits hot, fast, and hard. Raj’s company is in the information business; she was the one who provided the information about what was happening during the Bharat takeover. Ajay is set to take over Bharat as CEO from his father when the Board makes its formal vote to approve his appointment at their next meeting. However, a movement inside the Board, seemingly caused by an IP leak that traces back to Raj’s company and her garbage soon-to-be-ex-husband, calls into question Ajay’s ability to lead the company. Relationships within the Singh family start to fray under the stress while Raj faces the risk of her past coming to light if she fights her ex. What no one expected was for Ajay and Raj to have incredible chemistry in the boardroom as well as the bedroom…and for them to become an almost unstoppable force together.

Despite the heady Manhattan setting and feel that the characters are self-made business royalty, the books in the Singh Trilogy are also very much about the family relationships. The relationships that support us, but can also hurt us at the same time. Sharma expertly uses these webs to underpin the plot. If corporate espionage and arguments about intellectual property rights get you going plus incredible hot-but-tender sexual chemistry – and one very, very adorable tiny Chihuahua puppy who will melt your heart – get yourself a copy of The Legal Affair. (Did I mention it was hot? Ajay and Raj are serious dirty talkers. Also, I would totally watch a Netflix series adaptation of these books and we don’t even have book 3 yet!)

The Legal Affair is out August 18 from Avon Impulse!

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

stuff I read

On the Corner of Hope and Main by Beverly Jenkins (Blessings #10)

Citizens of Henry Adams, Kansas, know there’s never a dull moment in their small town… Trent July has been the mayor of this historic town for the past four years, but now he’s ready to let someone else take up the mantle. Barrett Payne, a former Marine, decides he wants the job. But when a surprise candidate also enters the ring, the town has opinions on who would be the best candidate. And of course that’s not the only drama…

As the residents of Henry Adams have learned, life will throw obstacles their way, but it’s how they come together and rise above these challenges that keep the bonds of their close-knit community strong.

I whoopsed up slightly when I requested On the Corner of Hope and Main from William Morrow. They were up front about it being the tenth entry in the Blessings series but I was thinking “series” like Ms. Bev’s Destiny or Old West romance series. In those series there’s a bit more separation between the couples’ stories so they can read more as linked stand-alones. But the Blessings series is true serialized storytelling, much like a soap opera, where the “main character” is the population of the town. The individual characters move forward and back in prominence depending on whether their subplot needs to come to the fore.

So if you’ve been reading Ms. Bev’s Blessing series, this is a really solid, entertaining continuation of the lives and happenings and shenanigans of the population of Henry Adams, KS. There’s an election for mayor that doesn’t go NEARLY as anyone planned, Bernardine’s trash ex-husband shows up to cause problems, and a certain felonious porcine character makes a reappearance.

However, if you, like me, had not read any of the previous books you might be at sea for a bit until you catch up. Which took me about 100 pages. I kept backing up to re-read so I could keep the many characters and their relationships straight. But it was a fun read once I had everyone straightened out. Ms. Bev really lets her sarcastic side fly at times and she’s created some really gorgeous blended families. Plus, this small town that has blossomed with the infusion of Bernardine’s money and love is really compelling. Someday, I’ll back up and pickup the earlier books.

On the Corner of Hope and Main is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a finished copy I received from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (The Singing Hills Cycle #1)

Summary from Goodreads: With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully. Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for. At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

Praise for The Empress of Salt and Fortune

“An elegant gut-punch, a puzzle box that unwinds itself in its own way and in its own time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Gorgeous. Cruel. Perfect. I didn’t know I needed to read this until I did.”–Seanan McGuire

“A tale of rebellion and fealty that feels both classic and fresh, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is elegantly told, strongly felt, and brimming with rich detail. An epic in miniature, beautifully realised.”–Zen Cho

I missed The Empress of Salt and Fortune when it published earlier this year, so I snagged a paper copy to read. This was such a surprising read! The world-building is so rich without pausing to tell the reader about it. It’s so skillfully sketched in through the interactions of Chih, a cleric who functions much like an archivist and anthropologist, Almost Brilliant, their accompanying niexin, and Rabbit, an elderly woman who slowly relates her tale of exile with the Empress. The way the little list of objects at the head of each chapter led into that little bit of story from Rabbit was so clever – like a little anthropology before a history lesson. It’s such an inclusive and feminist story.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

Summary from Goodreads: Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

I’ve had a book hangover since Mexican Gothic so I decided to join The Reading Rush this week to try and kick myself back into reading. (The Reading Rush used to be Booktubeathon, fyi.)

I decided to start by picking off a few recent Tor novellas I hadn’t got to, yet, starting with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. This is a wuxia-inspired, found family, queernormative road trip tale. Super fun! So you get all the squabbles that occur between family members, plus some action (there’s a war on), plus maybe someone stole something?, plus maybe feelings. The theme that runs deeper in this novella is what faith and the practice of faith means to those who believe.

I hope we get some more adventures of Guet Imm and Tet Sang. This is definitely a story that leaves room to continue, but has a nice ending if that never happens.

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

stuff I read

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Summary from Goodreads: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets…

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

So….are you looking for a chilly, creepy book? Maybe a bit of psychological horror in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or perhaps some Gothic horror a la Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? Have I got a book for you!

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic follows a young woman from Mexico City, Noemí, who is sent by her father to visit her cousin Catalina. Catalina is newly married to an Englishman and living on his estate near a former silver mine deep in the countryside but she has sent every more disturbing, erratic letters. So Noemí takes herself and her city-girl sophistication off to the very remote estate of High Place.

And it is a dreary, chilling, crumbling estate perpetually shrouded in dense fog. The Doyle family built the English mansion – and basically imported as much of Britain as they could – over the silver mine they took over in the 19th century. The mine is no longer operating and the family and house have decayed over the decades since the Revolution. And that’s just the beginning. Catalina’s husband Virgil is handsome yet strangely menacing. Florence, the sister-in-law, is distant, cold, and lays out the rules: no smoking, no hot water for bathing, no electric light, and no disturbing Catalina (who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, which doesn’t track with her symptoms). Her son Francis is a mild-mannered young man who might be Noemí’s friend, but he’s under his mother’s thumb. And the family patriarch, Howard….well, Howard is the source of almost all content warnings for this book. (CW for discussion of suicide, body horror, eugenics, sexual assault, and those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.)

After a few days of making herself a nuisance – and having ever-more disturbing dreams – Noemí has enough information to determine that she has to get herself and Catalina away from High Place and this dangerous family. But will the house let them go? (Yeah, you read that right!)

There are so many excellent, weird, creepy parts to Mexican Gothic. The isolated, creepy house, the chilling housekeeper, the magnetic yet menacing husband (all the best parts of Rebecca) mixed up with Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak in the vividly decaying house and the uniquely British obsession with family history but set in 1950s Mexico. Noemí’s interactions with the Doyle family get stranger and scarier and more complex. Then a little “weird nature” like in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation gets into the mix and the story goes WILD (I don’t eat mushrooms and thank God for that). Mexican Gothic is solid Gothic horror. I LOVED IT (it also gave me major book hangover). Another contender for best book of the year.

Mexican Gothic is out now!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.
Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #3)

Summary from Goodreads: Betrayed and set adrift…

Months before she’s set to walk down the aisle, assistant district attorney Brooklyn Lewis suffers an unthinkable loss. It’s bad enough her fiancé is violently taken from her, but along with her grief she must also process the fact that the man of her dreams was unfaithful. Friends and family want to see her heal, but Brooklyn doesn’t know how to move on from trauma and deception until she discovers she’s not the only one broken by this tragedy.

A light in the storm…

Attorney Vaughn Coleman and his partner Chris Shaw have also lost the love of their lives, who was found lifeless in the same bed as Brooklyn’s fiancé, taken from them by the same killer.

Unmoored by grief, Brooklyn, Chris, and Vaughn fall into a relationship that both fulfills them and threatens to pull them under the waves of guilt, but they soon realize it may take the love of three people to bring their battered ships back to shore.

*This romance features a polyamorous relationship between two men and a woman, with BDSM overtones*

FEEEEEELINGS. Harbor made me feel alllll the feelings. (Before I get into the review, I will give a brief content warning that the pre-chapter 1/off-page backstory contains cheating by romantic partners and death of romantic partners; there is also homophobia/kink-shaming on the page/related by characters’ family members.)

The Beards & Bondage series (Haven, Sanctuary) concludes with an expertly-written poly/menage BDSM romance between three people brought together by the violent deaths of their romantic partners. Vaughn and Shaw lost their partner Corrine and Brooklyn lost her fiance Josh when Corrine and Josh were murdered by Corrine’s stalker – while they were together romantically. The affair was revealed during the police investigation which complicates the survivors’ grief. In a meeting after the funerals, Vaughn, Shaw, and Brook feel an immediate emotional connection, but Brook chooses to walk away for the time being. Getting involved in her dead fiance’s lover’s partners’ lives is messed up, right? Maybe? No? Over a year later, she contacts the two men, deciding that perhaps she would like to explore their connection and see if there is more in the relationship than just bonding over shared trauma.

Each book in this series turns on the trauma-bonding between the main characters but I really feel like Rebekah excelled in this book, giving each character time to explore his or her own grief and trauma and wants and needs as the relationship progressed. The attention to detail in how Brook processed trauma versus Vaughn versus Shaw made them feel like actual real people processing their emotions right in front of me. The action of Harbor also takes place over a considerable time period – almost eighteen months prior to the epilogue – which really lends to the reality of this romance and allowed the characters to bond as people and also develop the trust needed in a BDSM relationship. The BDSM scenes, while certainly explicit, are exquisitely written. Rebekah could give a masterclass in how to make a scene hotter than hot but without using awkward euphemisms. The banter between each character was also so well-done. Brook and Vaughn converse differently than Brook and Shaw and Shaw and Vaughn, being in a long-term relationship, have their own conversational tics. Then you have Brook and her sister Liz – who is amazing in Sanctuary, do recommend. Nothing feels artificial – like I said, everyone feels like a real person instead of an invented character in a book.

Poly romances in general are harder to me to get into because it feels like – in my head – there are too many people and emotions to keep track of. I did not have this issue with Harbor – each character’s motivations and needs are very clear and they all worked together toward a beautifully satisfying emotional outcome. I also want to stress the significance of having three Black romantic main characters – including a plus-sized Black woman being worshipped by two gorgeous men – on the page. Mainstream romance publishing still hasn’t quite got the memo on diversity of all kinds, so Harbor is self-published. I can’t order in paperbacks of Harbor to sell in my store, at least not yet, but I can tell you to go buy Rebekah’s books via your e-book retailer of choice and use your dollars to show that a polyamorous romance with Black characters is what you want in your romance reading.

Harbor released on Tuesday, June 30, and if you haven’t yet read Haven and Sanctuary pick those up two and have yourself a wild reading weekend.

Dear FTC: I read a copy of this book that I purchased on my Nook.