The Theory of Attraction by Delphine Dryden (Science of Temptation #1)

13646578Many thanks to Sarah Wendell on the Smart Bitches, Trashy Books podcast for recommending this book as “nerd BDSM erotica”, which sets my little heart aflame.  I read it in one gulp – not hard considering it’s 136 pages, but still.  Hot.

And with rep!  It’s not explicitly stated but Ivan appears to be neuroatypical.  He’s a genius with science and computers but the ‘rules’ of human relationships are harder for him.  He has a high stakes event coming up where he needs to smooze with potential donors so he asks his next door neighbor, Camilla, for help.  She’s had a crush on him for a while now so when their get togethers start looking like dates sparks fly.

Many BDSM romance heroines know they’re submissive and are looking for scene experience and the Dom of their dreams.  That’s flipped here – Camilla has no idea what BDSM is, just that she likes what dominant Ivan does in the bedroom. His personality meshes well with being a Dom and the resulting scenes are delish.

Dryden has the plot firmly in hand and fits the novella length well but man, I wanted to see more of this couple.  It looks like the other books in the series are similarly short so I may just have to binge read them instead. 🙂

 

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The City of Brass by S.A. Chakraborty (The Daevabad Trilogy #1)

32718027I normally have two or three books going at a time but once I got into The City of Brass I couldn’t bring myself to read anything else.  “Why would you want to start another book?  What is this one lacking?”  Nothing.  So I kept reading.

Nahri lives in 18th century Cairo and ekes out a meager living as a con artist, diagnosing mysterious aliments and driving out spirits.  She doesn’t believe in spirits but her marks do, so no harm, right?  That is, until one day she inadvertently calls a djinn warrior to her side and they are forced to go to the titular city of brass, Daevabad, while being chased by nasties of every description.

Huzzah for own voices Muslim fantasy!  I know next to nothing about this time and period which is just pitiful.  So many other series riff off the the same European medieval-eque fantasy that the setting nearly paints itself, but here my only cultural frame of reference is the Disney movie Aladdin.  I am so, so glad to expand on that.

The story is epic and has everything – fights, political intrigue, a varied cast of characters, and a touch of romance.  There are discussions of religion, colonialism, poverty, and governance.  What sway does your past hold over you, even when you can’t remember it?  Can the cost of standing up for your beliefs run too high?

It’s nuanced and absorbing.  There are no heroes or villains – nearly every character has made choices both admirable and abominable.  There’s so much that I may have to reread The City of Brass before moving on to the next book, scheduled to be published later in 2018, but I’m very much looking forward to it.

The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell: A Dyslexic Traitor, an Unbreakable Code, and the FBI’s Hunt for America’s Stolen Secrets by Yudhijit Bhattacharjee

28953569The story Bhattacharjee covers is fascinating – in December of 2000 an FBI agent got a hold of coded letters sent to the Libyan consulate.  They were sent by a CIA analyst and offered to sell classified material to the foreign power at the price of millions to be wired to a Swiss bank account.  As proof of his access the writer included several top secret documents and promised information about US reconnaissance satellites, defense systems, and more.  It’s information that could put the US military and security in grave danger, not to mention kick strategy back a decade or two if it falls into the wrong hands.

I was excited to dig in – a whodunit, yea!  …except that we learn who the culprit is early on.  Heck, his name is in the first few lines of the jacket copy.  From there we could have gone down one of several paths – a why-dun-it, a how-dun-it, or a how-they-caught-him-…it.  But instead of picking one and committing Bhattacharjee gives us a little of each, and that lack of a single driving force made the read fall a bit flat for me overall.

Listening to the audiobook didn’t help, either, as alphanumeric code gibberish doesn’t translate well to the spoken word.  I got the sense that if the ciphers were laid out on a page it would all come together but in my ears it remained largely incomprehensible.

So… ‘Danger tonight’ would be enciphered as four dot one dot fourteen dot seven dot five dot eighteen star twenty dot fifteen dot fourteen dot nine dot seven dot eight dot twenty.

@_@

Not the narrator’s fault, not anyone’s fault, but it did make some parts tough going.

Overall the story is interesting and at 1.8 speed it’s a quick and fun listen, but while serviceable it didn’t tip over into awesome.  If you’re into codes or espionage you’ll want to give The Spy Who Couldn’t Spell a go, but do yourself a favor and stay away from the audiobook.

Firelight by Kristen Callihan (Darkest London #1)

23250312Plagued since birth by a strange and powerful gift, Miranda Ellis has spent her entire life struggling to control her exceptional abilities. Yet one innocent but irreversible mistake has left her family’s fortune decimated and forced her to wed London’s most nefarious nobleman.

Lord Benjamin Archer is no ordinary man. Doomed to hide his disfigured face behind masks, Archer knows it’s selfish to take Miranda as his bride. Yet he can’t help being drawn to the flame-haired beauty whose touch sparks a passion he hasn’t felt in a lifetime. When Archer is accused of a series of gruesome murders, he gives in to the beastly nature he has fought so hard to hide from the world. But the curse that haunts him cannot be denied. Now, to save his soul, Miranda will enter a world of dark magic and darker intrigue. For only she can see the man hiding behind the mask.

Review:

Going in I thought this was an urban fantasy series where all the books follow the same people, but no.  Despite the urban fantasy trappings it falls more along romance lines, with each book telling the story of a different couple. I’ve read Callihan before so I should have grokked this but, alas, I didn’t, so that expectation not being met disappointed me when I reached the last page.

It doesn’t take away from the book at all, though. The world building is great, the plot pulled me in and I like watching the hero and heroine do their thing. There’s magic, or at the very least some freaky stuff going on, and it doesn’t fit into a particular category.  Callihan has done herself a favor here, as it gives her plenty of options as the series progresses.

With an interesting combination of urban fantasy and romance Firelight could be a stepping stone between the two genres if you’re looking to try one or the other out. It may take me a while to continue the series (I wanted more of this couple, damn it!) but I’m sure I’ll get over myself eventually. 😉

Some Girls Bite by Chloe Neill (Chicagoland Vampires #1)

8856528Sure, the life of a graduate student wasn’t exactly glamorous, but I was doing fine until Chicago’s vampires announced their existence to the world. When a rogue vampire attacked me, I was lucky he only got a sip. Another bloodsucker scared him off and decided the best way to save my life was to make me the walking undead.

Now I’ve traded sweating over my thesis for learning to fit in at a Hyde Park mansion full of vamps loyal to Ethan “Lord o’ the Manor” Sullivan. He has centuries’ worth of charm but unfortunately he expects my gratitude—and servitude. Right…

But someone’s out to get me. Is it the rogue vampire who bit me? A vamp from a rival House? An angry mob bearing torches? My initiation into Chicago’s nightlife may be the first skirmish in a war—and there will be blood.

Review:

I love vampires.  Not all vampires, mind you, but I never get sick of them, even when the rest of the world decides they’re blasé.  So starting the Chicagoland Vampire series?  It’s like coming home.

The good:

  • The older heroine (27, gasp) means that she has brains, isn’t easily swayed by idiotic notions, and stands up for herself.  No Too Stupid To Live women here!  Check out what Merit says to the guy who turned her:

    “Whatever happened six days ago, I belong to no one by myself, Sullivan, and least of all you.”
    “You are what I made you.”
    “I make myself.”

    ~fist pump~

  • The world building is nicely paced and keeps you wondering about things without leaving too many unanswered questions.  Neill manages to introduce not only vampires but also sorcerers, shifters, and nymphs without going into info dump mode – well done indeed.
  • Everyone is acting logically, even if we don’t know the logic straight off.  There’s no obtuseness for the sake of being obtuse.
  • It’s fun!  Just the escape I needed from ~waves hands~ 2018 that I was looking for.

The not-so-good:

  • Merit’s descriptions of guys got to me, always talking about their lips and sexiness.

    His head was shaved, his eyes pale green, his lips full and sensuous.  Had it not been for the annoyed look on his face, I’d have said he was incredibly sexy.

    I was expecting this kind of description for a special guy but it’s all the guys, and every supernatural dude is a sexy hunk.  Less objectification would have been nice.

  • More character diversity would have been nice, too.

That’s it, though.  This is a series I can binge on – great plot with interesting characters and sexy parts with some fights and female friendship thrown in.  A hearty recommend for urban fantasy types, and paranormal romance people will enjoy it, too.

Colters’ Woman by Maya Banks

6471687See that apostrophe in the title, telling you that several people have one woman?  That’s the basis of this romance – three brothers are waiting for a perfect, fated lady to come into their life, just as it did for their fathers and grandfathers.  They will know her when they find her, and she is going to be wife to all three.

Weird, yes, but I enjoy crazy erotica from time to time so I’m game.  Our heroine is found in a snowbank in front of the brothers’ lodge (named, wait for it, Three Brothers Hunting Lodge) so they take her in.  She looks like she’s had a rough time and she’s cagey about what might have happened to her, but that doesn’t stop all three of them from going “you’re the one OMG you’ll love all of us don’t worry trust us”.  Turns out her husband is a Bad Dude so they try to protect the heroine and a suspense-y plot ensues.

So many things pissed me off.  The brothers suspect abuse but feel her up anyway.  They ask, ‘do you trust us?’ over and over as if it’s something to be given, not earned.  Later on someone is hurt so they send the sheriff to help him while the brothers go after a kidnapper because… there are no ambulances or medical staff in this town?  And when the MedEvac helicopter comes they have it land in Duffy’s pasture when there’s three feet of snow on the ground.  What, do you think the helicopter is just going to rest on top of the white stuff, or that a pasture will be plowed and salted?

GAH.

The only good thing about this book is that the brothers were named in alphabetical order from oldest to youngest which helped me keep them straight.  Otherwise the dubious consent, bad judgement, and lack of common sense did me in.  Nope.  Nope nope.

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.

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.