Banthology: Stories from Unwanted Nations ed. by Sarah Cleave

39737311Reading can be an escape, something transportative that takes you to different countries, cultures and states of mind.  It can take you to all the places that Donald Trump doesn’t want you to go.
(introduction)

Huzzah for Deep Vellum bringing this book to the US – it highlights stories we need to hear. Writers from Iran, Iraq, Syria, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, and Libya were “asked to develop a fictional response to Trump’s discriminatory ban, exploring themes of exile, travel, and restrictions on movement”.  The resulting short stories, all in translation, range from realistic to fantastic.

I ended up reading each story in one gulp, often while on the train to work.  When I got to the end I’d sit with it while the landscape slid past – people are going through this.  It’s fiction, but it’s real.  Even the most fantastic stories have an air of ‘lying to tell the truth’, using unbelievable circumstances to skewer reality.  All but one use first person, holding us close, refusing any comfort afforded by distance.

We follow someone doing whatever necessary to get to safety, visit a fantasy-like village above the clouds, and follow refugees as they put on a play (of sorts).  As with any collection I liked some stories more than others, but they all got me out of my brain and own life experiences, which is the point.  A great starting point for anyone interested in the people and cultures that some in power would rather we ignore.

Thanks to Deep Vellum and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

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Exploring Kyoto by Judith Clancy

9781611720419_c37d9I feel so lucky that I’ve had the chance to live in Kyoto for an extended period of time.  It’s beautiful, surrounded by mountains on three sides and chock-a-block with history.  It’s the kind of place that when you tell people where you live you mention the closest temple or shrine.  “Oh!” locals say.  “It’s beautiful over that way.”

Clancy guides you around all parts of the city in 31 walks.  She’s been here since 1970 so she really knows her stuff.  History buffs will love the explanations about each attraction’s significance, and even those who loathe history ~raises her hand~ will gain an appreciation while staying interested.

Each walk starts with an overview and public transportation options to the start point.  Along the way notable shops and eateries are mentioned, often with price ranges so you know what you’re getting into.  Relevant tips about etiquette are scattered throughout and maps, photos, and a detailed index are included.

Boats awaiting passengers at Arashiyama.
Arashiyama

After reading the introduction I checked out the walk for my favorite part of the city, Arashiyama.  It’s a mountainous district with a stunning river, temples, and iconic sights.  I’ve shown friends and family around it many times and all my favorite places are mentioned, from Tenryuji Temple and the Togetsukyo bridge to the bamboo forest and Iwatayama Monkey Park.  Clancy also recommends places I haven’t heard of – it turns out that until now I’ve missed out on Rakushisha, literally “the cottage of fallen persimmons”.  It’s associated with the poets Kyorai and Basho and the gardens have stones with poems carved into them.  I can’t wait to go the next time I’m over that way.

This is the books greatest strength – it covers all the “must-sees” while also directing you to underappreciated sites.  Japan and Kyoto in particular have been attracting more and more foreign visitors each year and many go to the same places, so getting off the beaten path provides a welcome respite from any crowds and a better look at the “real” Japan.

If you’re looking to spend any decent amount of time in Kyoto you can’t go wrong with Clancy as a guide.

Thanks to Stone Bridge Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Undiscovered by Sara Humphreys (Amoveo Rising #1)

30612657Review:

I downloaded this on a whim after a stressful day at work – dragon romance where the hero and heroine meet in their dreams? Yes, please.

It’s a good thing I gulped Undiscovered down in 24 hours because the more you think about it the less sense it makes.  Zander and Zed are identical twins and dragon shifters who were cursed 500 years ago.  Zander, cursed to be immortal and human, is running up against a hard deadline to free Zed, cursed to remain a dragon hibernating deep in the earth.  Zander and heroine Rena meet in the dreamrealm and he realizes she is Zed’s fated mate.  Zander takes it upon himself to take her to the cave he’s sleeping in to break the curse, but ends up falling in love along the way.

In general it makes sense but the details don’t add up.  In chapter one we’re told that the curse can only be broken by “an act of pure, unselfish love” but there isn’t one.  Some things that happen in the dreamrealm carry over to the real world directly but others, like Rena dreaming she’s in a fiery inferno each night, don’t.  And the big problem that we’re told will happen when Zed awakens… doesn’t.  He literally can’t remember what happened right before the curse was placed so no harm, no foul yay.

~eye roll~

Characterization is thin on the ground, as well.  For example, I wondered why a bunch of shapeshifters at the ranch are assumed to be a completely benevolent bunch.  We don’t know these guys from Adam and Zander doesn’t trust them, so why does Rena fall in so easily?  After I finished I found out that these are HEA couples from Humphreys’ Amoveo Legend series, so I guess she didn’t feel the need to explain who they are.  It’s annoying if, like me, you’re coming at the series fresh.

So while Undiscovered was a quick, diverting read it irks the more I think about it.  It’s the only book in the series for now but I can’t imagine continuing.

 

How to Suppress Women’s Writing by Joanna Russ

36556972“She didn’t write it. She wrote it but she shouldn’t have. She wrote it but look what she wrote about. She wrote it BUT…”

How to Suppress Women’s Writing is a meticulously researched and humorously written “guidebook” to the many ways women and other “minorities” have been barred from producing written art. In chapters like “Prohibitions,” “Pollution of Agency,” “The Double Standard of Content,” “False Categorization,” and “Isolation” Joanna Russ names, defines, and illustrates those barriers to art-making we may have felt but which tend to remain unnamed and thus insolvable.

Review:

How to Suppress Women’s Writing can be considered a classic so I’m excited that it’s being re-released.  Written in 1983 and based on academia in the 1970s some parts feel dated but the underlying principles are sadly relevant.  Russ systematically goes through the “reasons” women’s writing has been maligned for centuries – she didn’t write it.  Or she wrote it but she had help, or she only wrote one of it, or she’s an anomaly. (Oh yes, there’s more.)

Each method of suppression gets its own chapter with historical examples of how it was used.  A word of fair warning – it’s on literary criticism and takes for granted that you know your 18th and 19th century writers.  If you’re not familiar ~raises her hand~ the name dropping with minimal explanation can be confusing bordering on annoying.

That doesn’t make the material less fascinating, though.  For example, Russ randomly looked at anthologies and academic lists and found that women accounted for between five and eight percent of writers selected.  You would think that a longer list or larger book could “afford” to include more women but the percentage actually went down with size, not up.  As Russ notes:

It seems that when women are brought into a reading list, a curriculum, or an anthology, men arrive, too – let the number of men drop and the women mysteriously disappear.

She argues further that isolating women in this way makes them look like anomalies and thus more easily minimized and ignored.  Now and then Russ points out that these same methods are used on people of color and other marginalized groups, but doesn’t dive much further until a mea culpa afterward.  I chalk this up to the fact that the book was written over thirty years ago but I was hoping for more intersectionality all the same.

All in all I’m glad I read How to Suppress Women’s Writing and I’m thankful that it’s once again in print – may it supercharge our BS detectors and empower us to fight back.

Thanks to University of Texas Press and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

Mrs. Caliban by Rachel Ingalls

31979077It all starts with the radio. Dorothy’s husband, Fred, has left for work, and she is at the kitchen sink washing the dishes, listening to classical music. Suddenly, the music fades out and a soft, close, dreamy voice says, “Don’t worry, Dorothy.”

A couple weeks later, there is a special interruption in regular programming. The announcer warns all listeners of an escaped sea monster. The beast—who was captured six months earlier by a team of scientists—is said to possess incredible strength and to be considered extremely dangerous.

That afternoon, the seven-foot-tall lizard man walks through Dorothy’s kitchen door. She is frightened at first, but there is something attractive about the monster. The two begin a tender, clandestine affair, and no one, not even Dorothy’s husband or her best friend, seems to notice.

Review:

This is a weird book for me to review.  Part of that is because frankly, it’s a weird book.  A six foot seven lizard man shows up in Dorothy’s life, sweeps her off her feet, and… things… start to happen.

The writing itself is wonderful.  You can get a feel for Ingalls’ satire and wit from the very first lines:

Fred forgot three things in a row before he reached the front door on his way to work… He dithered for a few more minutes, patting his pockets and wondering whether he ought to take an umbrella.  She told him the answers to all his questions and slipped in several more of her own: would he need the umbrella if he had the car, did he really think it felt like rain?  If his car had that funny noise, couldn’t he take the bus instead, and had he found the other umbrella yet?  It must be at the office somewhere; it was a nice telescoping one and she suggested that someone else had walked off with it.

The first half, with the surreal meeting of housewife and lizard man, went down easy.  The second half, on the other hand, made me uneasy.  Prior events are called into question and you’re left wondering what to believe.  That’s fine, but either way it doesn’t change my perceptions about the characters much.  So let’s chalk Mrs. Caliban up as a “…huh.”  It may be a good idea to revisit it in 10 or 20 years to see if I feel the same way.

The Black Tides of Heaven by J.Y. Lang (Tensorate #1)

33099588Mokoya and Akeha, the twin children of the Protector, were sold to the Grand Monastery as children. While Mokoya developed her strange prophetic gift, Akeha was always the one who could see the strings that moved adults to action. What’s more, he saw the sickness at the heart of his mother’s Protectorate.

A rebellion is growing. The Machinists discover new levers to move the world every day, while the Tensors fight to put them down and preserve the power of the state. Unwilling to continue to play a pawn in his mother’s twisted schemes, Akeha leaves the Tensorate behind and falls in with the rebels. But every step Akeha takes towards the Machinists is a step away from his sister Mokoya. Can Akeha find peace without shattering the bond he shares with his twin sister?

Review:

I’ve been wanting to read more nonbinary authors and this book looked fascinating, taking place in a fantasy world where children are born without gender.  By puberty most pick the gender that suits them and switch from they/them to he/him or she/her pronouns.  I love the idea and how it’s executed.

The world building is good and sucked me in from the beginning.  Set in Asia with elements from several cultures there’s a magic system and fantastic creatures that are explained without being overwrought.  Yang strikes this balance by throwing in just enough of the familiar (elemental forces, phoenixes, etc.) and it works with the lower page count.

The plot, however, left me less satisfied as time went on.  In order to cover 35 years there are large jumps in time and while some work, especially while the twins are younger, the later skips left me wanting.  It seems like a lot should have happened to Akeha in six or twelve years, but not all that much changes, considering.  I especially would have liked to see how his relationship with Yongcheow evolved instead of just the beginning and end points.

While there’s a Big Happening at the end it’s not a resolution while also not being a cliff hanger.  Gah.  In sum I like the world, I like what Yang is doing and how they’re doing it, but the story doesn’t quite work for me at novella length.

To Seek and to Find by Tamryn Eradani

38119634“Project: Notice Me” is a win-win for Kyle. He’ll do a series of demonstrations at the club and have a good time with people he knows and the fledging Doms who are new to the scene and looking for encouragement from an experienced Sub. And maybe along the way, he’ll attract the attention of the new Dom at the club, the one with terrible taste in fashion, but who has the most intense focus Kyle has ever seen. He wants the entirety of the man’s attention on him. The clothes are optional.

Review:

A hefty chunk of BDSM erotica is wish fulfillment to the exclusion of reality.  A hot millionaire has a complete dungeon club in his basement? Sure, why not. A Dom can tell who’s a sub just by looking?  All over the place.  There’s a range from harmless to egregious but in each case reality is shoved off to the side.

To Seek and to Find, on the other hand, strikes me as utterly real.  The first BDSM scene is the lowest key public bondage I’ve read – Kyle lies down while a rope corset and halter is put on him.  No suspension, no gag, just rope on his torso.  Even this, super simple and basic compared to other erotica, makes Kyle dip deep into subspace with repercussions that last into the next day.

There are bunches of little things that make me wonder why I haven’t read them before.  For example, Kyle subs in a guided scene for a new Dom.  In many books that’d be it, but here we see the pre-scene discussion over coffee, guidance during the scene itself, and a post-mortem the next day to go over what worked and what didn’t.  These all strike me as Very Good Ideas, and give the impression that Eradani knows what she’s talking about.

Let’s not forget the romance – haltingly sweet (in a good way), with good communication, hot sex, and room to grow.  To Seek and to Find has a happily-ever-after-for-now ending and I can’t wait to see how Kyle and Aiden grow as a couple.  A great read even if it’s a little out of your sweet spot.

Immortal in Death by J.D. Robb (In Death #3)

238126She was one of the most sought-after women in the world. A top model who would stop at nothing to get what she wanted — even another woman’s man. And now she was dead, the victim of a brutal murder. Police lieutenant Eve Dallas put her professional life on the line to take the case when suspicion fell on her best friend, the other woman in the fatal love triangle. Beneath the facade of glamour, Eve found that the world of high fashion thrived on an all-consuming passion for youth and fame. One that led from the runway to the dark underworld of New York City where drugs could fulfill any desire — for a price . . .

Review:

The last In Death book I read was five years ago but I was still able to jump in with no problems. The series follows Eve Dallas, a homicide detective in New York circa 2058, and her friends and coworkers as she solves murder cases. Robb is a pen name for Nora Roberts so there’s a small romantic storyline, as well.

The mystery is engaging and kept me interested, so no problems there.  And who can say anything bad about Roberts’ writing?  The plot and characterization are solid and I like learning about the slightly dystopic world. It’s not flashy or literary but it pulls me back to the page to see what happens next.

…which is good, because I read a paperback with a tight spine and OW.  After ten or fifteen minutes pain settled into my wrists and I had to put the book down.  Thank goodness for digital and my ultra light e-reader – it would be hard for me to read as many books as I do without it!

Three books into the series the world is built out enough that Robb can flesh out minor characters, which I appreciate. I like the crew surrounding Eve and Rourke and look forward to following them through dozens (!!) more books.