Melmoth by Sarah Perry

36628420It has been years since Helen Franklin left England. In Prague, working as a translator, she has found a home of sorts—or, at least, refuge. That changes when her friend Karel discovers a mysterious letter in the library, a strange confession and a curious warning that speaks of Melmoth the Witness, a dark legend found in obscure fairy tales and antique village lore. As such superstition has it, Melmoth travels through the ages, dooming those she persuades to join her to a damnation of timeless, itinerant solitude. To Helen it all seems the stuff of unenlightened fantasy.

But, unaware, as she wanders the cobblestone streets Helen is being watched. And then Karel disappears. . . .

Review:

Content warning for war atrocities.

After a run of decidedly meh books for The Booktube Prize the beginning of this book excited me – a mystery, yea! It morphed a bit as it went on, from mystery to Gothic horror-ish to historical fiction. And I can’t say I like the work as a whole.

I don’t want to spoil anything so I’m going to be (annoyingly?) vague. The central narrative follows Helen but flashes back to several different times and places through the use of “primary” documents. Normally I love this sort of thing, and some of the tales stood out as fine short stories in their own right, but it didn’t feel cohesive. The reader is tipped into and out of story lines with the grace of someone emptying a wheelbarrow.

While the writing doesn’t bother me the literary devices do. Symbolism isn’t merely used, it’s beat over our heads until I rolled my eyes at every mention of a jackdaw. In the middle a connection is made between the atrocities of the past and those of today. It could have been an, ‘oh, wow’ kind of revelation, but it’s done in a ham-handed way that strips it of any power. And the “twist” at the end is meant to give goosebumps but only made me yawn.

All in all it was disappointing for my first Sarah Perry.

The Incendiaries by R.O. Kwon

36679056Phoebe Lin and Will Kendall meet their first month at prestigious Edwards University. Phoebe is a glamorous girl who doesn’t tell anyone she blames herself for her mother’s recent death. Will is a misfit scholarship boy who transfers to Edwards from Bible college, waiting tables to get by. What he knows for sure is that he loves Phoebe.

Grieving and guilt-ridden, Phoebe is increasingly drawn into a religious group—a secretive extremist cult—founded by a charismatic former student, John Leal. Meanwhile, Will struggles to confront the fundamentalism he’s tried to escape, and the obsession consuming the one he loves. When the group bombs several buildings in the name of faith, killing five people, Phoebe disappears. Will devotes himself to finding her, tilting into obsession himself, seeking answers to what happened to Phoebe and if she could have been responsible for this violent act.

Review:

The Incendiaries is my third read for The Booktube Prize and I was curious what kind of book it would be. I cringed when I saw the table of contents – strictly rotating points of view, here among the three main characters, is not my sort of thing.

It works though, in large part because Will is our narrator, relating information about the other characters in hearsay. From an early chapter marked Phoebe:

She’d have sat in the circle, holding a kidskin journal. Though I’d driven Pheobe here, I was outside, going home. It’s a mistake. I should have stayed, but I didn’t. Instead, I’ll add what details I can.

So put that in the plus column. I also like the book’s themes, especially as it examines faith – losing it, searching for it, and what people will do in it’s name.

On the other hand plot is thin on the ground. I was avoiding the jacket copy but I felt forced to turn to it a third of the way through, as nothing was happening and I wanted to have an idea of what may transpire. It turns out those two paragraphs are the entire plot, and everything else is characterization.

That’s not a bad thing, but combined with an overwrought writing style that I don’t care for, I never felt fully involved in the story. All in all it was an okay read, but sadly not particularly memorable.

The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality: From Ace to Ze by Morgan Lev Edward Holleb

9781785923425_f78cfThere can be confusion around the appropriate terminology for trans and queer identities, even within the trans community itself. As language is constantly evolving, it can be especially difficult to know what to say. As a thorough A-Z glossary of trans and queer words from ‘ace’ to ‘xe’, this dictionary guide will help to dispel the anxiety around using the “wrong” words, while explaining the weight of using certain labels and providing individuals with a vocabulary for personal identification.

Having correct and accurate terminology to describe oneself can be empowering, especially with words and phrases that describe gender identity, sexuality, sexual orientation, as well as slang relevant to LGBTQ+ rights and anti-discrimination, queer activism, gender-affirming healthcare and psychology.

Review:

When you have a question about a term used in the LGBTQIA+ community it can be hard to find a definition that is trustworthy. There’s the internet… but it’s the internet, and some pages are sketchy.  The A-Z of Gender and Sexuality is a place to go with these questions, if you just want some info, or if you’re interested in related history.

Holleb, who is trans, bisexual, nonbinary, and uses he/him pronouns, writes with an unabashedly activist point of view that I’m glad for.  He has no problem saying that we shouldn’t use a certain word, or that a particular (often hateful) way of looking at the world is wrong.  In the introduction he also says that we, the reader, are not obliged to agree with him on everything, and are free to cross out passages and rip out pages as we see fit.  I find the invitation refreshing and welcome.

I read the book straight through, as is my wont, and had a mixed experience.  The information itself is great.  A bunch of questions that have been stewing in the back of my mind were clearly answered, and learned some words that I didn’t even know existed.  Some are terms used within the community, others are words that have fallen out of fashion or the times but nevertheless are still good to know.

However, as a whole the writing is uneven.  It feels like it’s trying to be academic in parts but sourcing is inconsistent and clunky. Some sections give lots of facts and percentages that don’t serve the reader as well as a thoughtful summary would.  More than a few glossary entries stray into essay-length reiterations of history, and while at times enlightening they are often lists of facts, like the names and dates for organizations connected with a certain cause.  The information isn’t bad, I just wanted it synthesized a little more.

Overall it’s okay.  I learned a bunch, but it could have been put together more cohesively. As a result its a bit hit-and-miss as a resource, but it will definitely start you on the right track.

Thanks to Jessica Kingsley Publishers and Edelweiss for providing a review copy.

The Rose by Tiffany Reisz (The Red #2)

38827724On the day of Lia’s university graduation party, her parents—wealthy art collectors with friends in high places—gift her a beautiful wine cup, a rare artifact decorated with roses. August Bowman, a friend of her parents and a guest at Lia’s party, tells her it’s known as the Rose kylix and it was used in the temple ceremonies of Eros, Greek god of erotic love, and has the power to bring the most intimate sexual fantasies to life.

He dares her to try it for herself, and when Lia drinks from the Rose kylix she is suddenly immersed in an erotic myth so vivid it seems real—as though she’s living out the most sensual fantasy with August by her side…

Review:

There’s so much to love about this book! Reisz is one of my favorite authors for a reason. 🙂

The good:

  • Reisz is bi and August, our hero, is also bi. Yea!
  • I don’t care about mythology but the way the gods are depicted kept me interested. It made me want to know more about them as “people”, not just the stories they’re depicted in.
  • The romance is just wonderful. Lia first experience with sex wasn’t all that great – nothing non-consensual but in the way that, for a lot of women, your first sex isn’t great sex. After that the guy heaped all kinds of baggage on her and it affects how she feels about sex even now. August is understanding and supportive, and without pushing her farther than she wants to go helps her enjoy sex in the way she wants.
  • The book as a whole is as feminist as hell. There’s little things like Lia’s mom (the heroine of the previous book in the series, The Red) calling the walk of shame a ‘walk of fame’. Why should a woman feel ashamed for having an amazing night of sex? Men can rock it, women should rock it, too!
  • Big things are talked about, as well. There’s lots of discussion of which myths have been passed through history and why – namely because men have decided this or that story is worthy of being immortalized in a painting or play. If there are myths that scare men, maybe showing them as silly, stupid, or weak in the face of a kick-ass woman, there’s a much lower chance that the story would survive the centuries when the gatekeepers all have dicks.
  • At one point the ending steers towards bittersweet, which made me feel conflicted. On one hand I love these two particular characters so much that I want them to have a carefree happily ever after, on the other hand Reisz is stellar at bittersweet resolutions and I know she would make it worthwhile. We ended up getting an unambiguously HEA (yea!), but I can’t help but wonder what a bittersweet ending would have looked like.
  • Speaking of the ending, as with many romances based on Greek myths there’s a deus ex machina at the end. I’m not usually a fan of an all-powerful character sweeping in and fixing things with the sweep of a hand, but here it feels oddly earned. There’s enough strife and heartache to balance things, and it doesn’t feel like an authorly ‘get out of jail free and save the romance in one fell swoop’ card.

The neither-here-nor-there:

  • The first book in this series was indie published, while this one was picked up by a major publisher. I noticed that a couple of lines weren’t crossed here, most notably anal sex. There’s no mention of the word, the action looks like it may stray in that direction for a second with all kinds of euphemisms), but it always veers away again. Reisz doesn’t shy away from much of anything sexual, so I figure it must have been a restriction from the publisher. I have no idea about the reasoning, but if that’s the case – boo.
  • If you’d like to try erotic romance by Reisz but aren’t into BDSM this would be a decent place to start. While the sex is adventurous and fantastical it’s light on themes like bondage and submission.

Another awesome work from Riesz – brava! And Lia has three brothers (not to mention some best friends), so there’s no telling where things will go from here. ~rubs hands together greedily~

Thanks to MIRA and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

 

The Immortalists by Chloe Benjamin

30288282It’s 1969 in New York City’s Lower East Side, and word has spread of the arrival of a mystical woman, a traveling psychic who claims to be able to tell anyone the day they will die. The Gold children—four adolescents on the cusp of self-awareness—sneak out to hear their fortunes.

The prophecies inform their next five decades. Golden-boy Simon escapes to the West Coast, searching for love in ’80s San Francisco; dreamy Klara becomes a Las Vegas magician, obsessed with blurring reality and fantasy; eldest son Daniel seeks security as an army doctor post-9/11; and bookish Varya throws herself into longevity research, where she tests the boundary between science and immortality.

Review:

Content warning for suicide and alcoholism.

The Immortalists was my second read for The Booktube Prize and right from the start I liked it better than the first.

The good:

  • The writing is punchier than White Houses and I needed that. It’s not amazing – I only highlighted a line or two – but it works.
  • The main thematic thrust of the book, pitting fate against self-fulfilling prophecy, is interesting.
  • You can tell when Benjamin writes about a place she knows because it pops off the page. I may be biased because I’ve also lived in San Francisco, but she brought me right back in an almost bodily way.
  • The character work is good. Everyone is well rounded and flawed, down to the secondary characters. Maybe it’s because they don’t have much time on the page but they ended up being some of my favorites. (Robert! 💕)
  • The author did a ton of research and it shows, both in the writing and the lengthy acknowledgements. It all rang right for me, even the medical stuff. Well done.

The not-so-good:

  • I felt trepidation picking up this book because fate! Ack! Don’t mess with it! And the beginning chapters only made it worse – the first character’s story arc is dead predictable, and the second character’s story filled me with dread.
  • At the start the fate/self-fulfilling prophecy thing was wonderfully blurry and interesting to think about, but that sense of mystery is ruined as more and more characters confront it. By the time we get to the end there isn’t much left to ponder.
  • I was hoping for more fabulist elements, but the whole thing is quite grounded in reality.
  • The only character that carries through the entire book in a meaningful way is the mother, and I would have liked to see her recognized as a constant in their lives. We get bits and pieces of her life but she is usually off to the side, and a less important presence to many of the kids than their father.

Overall the book is uneven, with some chapters I dreaded reading and others that I couldn’t put down. It ended up being an okay read, but not as amazing as all the hype I’ve heard.

The Submission Gift by Solace Ames (LA Doms #2)

20733698Newlyweds Jay and Adriana had a happy marriage and a spectacular sex life—until tragedy struck. Jay spent a year recuperating while Adriana worked as a chef to pay their bills. Though he’s made nearly a full recovery, some aspects of their intimate play will never be the same. It’s a small price to pay, all things considered.

When a long struggle with the insurance company results in an overdue payout Jay has a plan. He’ll take some of it and hire a high-end rent boy who specializes in sexual dominance as a gift for Adriana.

Paul is the handsome stranger they choose…and the one who changes everything.

Review:

Watching Jay, Adriana, and Paul fall in love is awesome but when the shit hits the fan, look out.

The good:

  • Protagonists of color written by a woman of color, which I am forever and will always be here for.
  • Paul is white while Jay and Adriana are Latinx and it’s a cross-cultural reality without becoming a focus or sticking point.  There are other people of color represented, and Jay and Paul are bisexual.
  • Man, the sex is hot.  If you like domination, bondage, and people pushing their boundaries this is for you.
  • All of the main characters relationships are well developed and rang true for me.  Jay and Adriana are married and solid, Jay and Paul are attracted to each other but Paul has to be careful not to go full Dom on him, and Paul and Adrianna have a more classic Dom/sub relationship.  All three of these pairings get scenes of their own, as well as the triad as a whole.
  • I thought that Paul’s work as an escort might squick me out but he is professional and has thought through all the pros, cons, and risks in such a way that I can nod my head and think, ‘yup, makes sense, works for him, alright’.
  • While I’m no expert it looks like Ames has done her research, portraying on social work, life as a sous chef, and the legal/practical challenges of becoming a triad in believable ways.

This gets you through the first two-thirds or so, and I was really digging it.  But then.

The not-so-good:

  • When the shit hits the fan it keeps going.  In the extended synopsis it’s hinted that Paul’s past would catch up with him, and it does.  It’s not pretty, but I’m okay with it.  But then another character gets in a situation and comes to bodily harm.  Like, you need to go to the hospital for surgery and there’s going to be a court case bodily harm.  It was too much for me, and I’m not sure the story needed that much conflict to get where it was going.  I still have a bit of whiplash from it.

If you’re into triads and BDSM this is an easy recommend, just know that ending will get worse – much worse – before it gets better.