Stuff and Nonsense: reading


Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts
Showing posts with label reading. Show all posts

6.24.2020

Pride Month: The Queen of Ieflaria


Princess Esofi has made the long journey to Ieflaria to wed Crown Prince Albion, someone she has been betrothed to since childhood. Although they have never met, they have exchanged many letters, and Esofi is looking forward to her marriage … or, rather, was. The prince has died, leaving Esofi and Ieflaria in precarious positions. Esofi does not want to return to her homeland (from my reading it seemed almost as if she couldn't) and Ieflaria doesn't want her to go, as they need her magic to fight off the dragons pillaging the countryside.

Esofi needs to marry someone royal to stay in Ieflaria. Someone like Adale, Albion's sister. And that would be an excellent solution to everyone's problems ... except Adale never expected to be the heir, is upset by the idea of replacing her brother, and is set on doing a runner at the first opportunity. Happily, there is an alternative to Adele -- the Terrible Cousins. Except, well, they're terrible.

I liked Adale and Esofi -- both very different characters, but each interesting and compellingly-written. Their romance grew slowly from an initial tentative liking into something tender and sweet and rooted. They were so cute together. Every scene with just the two of them getting to know each other left me grinning like a goof and wishing for more. Indeed, I would have been perfectly content if the entire novel had just been a series of scenes in which Adale and Esofi exchange amusing banter while wearing fabulous clothes.

I do wish the secondary characters were a bit more fleshed out. Most were very one-note -- for example, Lady Mireille was snotty, "Lady Lisette" was sneaky, and Adele's friends were akin to a mass of drunken puppies. The world-building was a bit uneven -- Esofi's interior monologues sometimes bordered on infodumps and, yet, I also frequently felt as if I was being tortured with hints of Things That Might Be Important But Will Go Unexplained. But, hey, The Queen of Ieflaria is both a debut novel and the first in a series -- I expect the world-building will improve as Calvin goes on and concepts/subplots that are unclear will become crystal.

Ultimately, while I feel The Queen of Ieflaria does need just a little more polish, it was still an extremely enjoyable read. Hooray for kissing, kittens, floofy dresses! Hooray for happy pansexual princesses! Hooray for a fantasy universe in which sexuality is not A Big Deal or even a Thing.

The Queen of Ieflaria by Effie Calvin. NineStar Press, 2018. Kindle edition.

6.17.2020

Pride Month: Alice + Freda Forever


1892. Two young people are in love and secretly engaged to be married, but then, due to family interference, the engagement is broken and all contact between the two is stopped. A tragedy, yes, but these things happen. Except one of them isn’t going to give up on the engagement -- it’s marriage or death. Well, that happens.
And they’re lesbians ...

So, yeah, there’s that. Would I read a historic crime book about a nice straight, white Memphis boy who killed is ex-fiancé in 1892? Probably not. But give me a crime history with lesbians and I’d fight every library patron on the eastern seaboard to get my hands on it. Yes, I can feel you judging me. I judge me.

Alice + Freda Forever is one of those reads I’d definitely recommend to people looking for nonfiction that reads like fiction. There’s just so much of Alice and Freda’s story that seems impossible or improbable and yet is undoubtedly (and heartrendingly) true. A lot of that has to do with how lesbianism was viewed in the 1892 -- which is to say it wasn’t, because it simply didn’t exist (for anyone who wasn’t one, obviously).

That Alice and Freda planned to run away together, get married, and live as husband and wife was just so far beyond the ken of any reasonable person -- who could have grasped the possibility? Even Freda’s own brother, when he waited up with a shotgun that elopement night, was convinced there was really a man at root of the elopement scheme and that Alice was merely a pawn. If the girls were actually serious in their love, then clearly one or both of them had to be insane. And that’s what Alice’s trial is about. Not whether she killed Freda, but whether she’s sane enough to be tried for murder.

Although I frequently had to put the book down to facepalm over Alice’s painful dramatics (someone get the girl a therapist) and awkward machinations (she’s about as cunning as your average thwarted-in-love teenager, I guess), I absolutely adored this book. The story, while deeply tragic, was endlessly fascinating and I wanted more. (Indeed, I’d love to know why more of Alice’s testimony isn’t included. Is it destroyed or missing? And what of the poor patsy, Lilly Johnson? What became of Lilly after the trail?).

Alice + Freda Forever: A Murder in Memphis by Alexis Coe (Pulp/Zest Books, 2014)

6.10.2020

Pride Month: My Brother's Husband, Volume 1


My Brother's Husband is a sweet, tender manga about family, parenthood, love, and loss. Brothers Yaichi and Ryoji had grown apart as adults, with Ryoji eventually emigrating to Canada and marrying Mike. Some time later, Ryoji dies and big, burly, bearish Mike travels to Japan to visit Yaichi and his daughter.

Initially Yaichi's homophobia causes him to struggle with fulfilling his host and familial obligations to Mike, but gradually -- as he sees how warmly and kindly everyone else responds to Mike, how much his daughter Kana loves her new Canadian uncle, and how much Mike is clearly grieving for his husband -- Yaichi's heart opens and he becomes less prejudiced. His transformation is not flawless, but deeply human.

So there's all that heavy-sounding plot going on and yet it is lightly and gently told. There's a great deal to empathize with, as well as some amusing light-hearted moments, cross-cultural teasing, and a sweet domesticity to the whole thing. I greatly enjoyed My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 and I look forward to reading the Volume 2. I only wish there was a Volume 3 ...

My Brother's Husband, Volume 1 written by Gengorah Tagame w/ trans. by Anne Ishii. Pantheon Books, 2017.

6.03.2020

Pride Month: Hooked on You


While Anna's life is a busy one, she feels a bit bored with it. On her daughter's advice she decides to take up a new hobby and begins attending a group crochet class at a local craft shop. There she finds herself feeling all sorts of confusing things about the shop owner, Ollie. Ollie is aware of Anna's feelings, but not looking for a relationship, tries to be her friend. This works, for a time, but their unrequited mutual attraction is always quietly simmering in the background and ... well, you can guess.

Hooked On You is a sweet, slow burning romance as much about friendship and family as it is about love. While the chemistry is great and the sex scenes have a tender honesty about them that made me a bit swoony, it's the little kisses, glances, and touches shared between Anna and Ollie that made my heart grow two sizes. Matthews has written her protagonists as real, ordinary people who care deeply about each other and show it, not in grand gestures, but with small, every day intimacies that in the end mean so much more.

I love that Anna and Ollie are in their 50s with ex-husbands and adult children. I don't see that often in romance and it felt refreshing to see older women with full, established lives falling in love. Anna and Ollie's relationship does not exist in a bubble, but touches the lives of everyone around them, reinforcing existing family bonds and forging new connections with others.

Imho, if you are looking for a tender feel-good romance, give Hooked On You a read.

Hooked on You by Jenn Matthews. Ylva Publishing, 2019. Kindle edition.

5.02.2020

Pandemic Reads: Short Fantasy & Science Fiction

thumbnail collage of assorted sff magazine covers


Having gobbled up (perhaps) too many novels at the start of this pandemic, I find I now crave shorter reads. Considering that you, too, might prefer shorter reads, I've compiled a list of my ten favorite short fantasy and science fiction.

4.06.2020

March 2020 Reads


The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones
A fluffy, comfortingly predictable foodie romance. The descriptions of traditional Chinese cuisine and the community element in dining made me want to know more. Maggie and Sam's romance, delightfully free of melodrama and miscommunication, was a charming spin on friends-to-lovers.

Paladin's Grace by T. Kingfisher (Ursula Vernon) [kindle]
A charming, feel-good fantasy about a (literally) godless paladin and a perfumer who is anything but a damsel in distress. Lots of severed heads, reanimated corpses, and banter.

The Bride Test by Helen Hoang
A mixed-race single mother living in the slums of Ho Chi Minh City accidentally encounters a Vietnamese American woman looking for a wife for her stubborn son and finds herself "trying him out" for the summer. Nuanced loved story that manages to deal with complex topics such as autism, immigration, and self-discovery in heartwarming, understanding way.

3.01.2020

February 2020 Reads



The Light Brigade by Kameron Hurley
In a war between the corporate states of earth and the humans of Mars, armies of the poor are recruited and modified to transform into "light" which allows them to be beamed to the frontlines. Then one infantryman finds herself returning from missions with experiences very different from those of her platoon ...

The Light Brigade raised some interesting ideas about late-stage capitalism, fake news, fear, and individuality, but their treatment was frequently heavy-handed. Still, a highly readable combination of violence and philosophy.


We Who Are About To... by Joanna Russ [hoopla digital]
Eight space travelers become stranded on an uncharted planet. Seven survivors fantasize about colonizing the planet, creating their own society complete with babies. However, our narrator is quick to realize survival is not possible for any of them and that the only real choice is death. This certainty alienates the other survivors, who are simply not prepared to hear it, setting in motion a dangerous conflict.

We Who Are About To... is a well-written, ultimately satisfying tale which raises interesting questions about paternalism, imperialism, autonomy, and dying.


The Bird House by Kelly Simmons
Nonlinear story of elderly widow Ann Biddle, the secrets of her past, and their impact on her present relationships.

Ann was an absolute firecracker and I enjoyed her developing relationship with her young granddaughter. The nonlinear narrative was a good choice and held my attention effectively. However, Ann's dementia felt unreal -- like a poor attempt to inject additional drama. Overall, a melancholy read about aging, secrets, and intrafamilial struggles.