Set Me Up by Kat Alexis

20104544Indigo Larsen can finally live her dreams of exploring the world. Her first stop is Ireland, where on a dare she accepts the Tongue of Truth liquor. The sex that follows is passionate and more exotic than anything she’s ever imagined. Waking up the next morning `on Aedan Ciaran’s naked lap with his hard cock inside her is more than disconcerting. Convinced the liquor is the cause of her predicament, Indigo tries to leave.What’s a leprechaun to do? Why, bring out all the luck he can find in hopes of loving his way into Indigo’s heart.

Review:

Sometimes in the mood for something completely off the wall and I hunt down the most out-there erotic romance I can find. An American who falls in love with a guy who turns out to be a leprechaun? Sure!

Thank goodness it’s short, though. A woman heads to Ireland to stretch her wings and accepts a drink from a bartender at a pub. The next thing she knows she’s having sex with that bartender and it’s amazing.

Yea great se but where was her choice in this, and what’s with the sudden fated mate stuff? Taking away the heroine’s agency, strike one. Meh sex scenes where orgasm quantity beats all else, strike two. The idea of a sexy, handsome (and tall, thank you) leprechaun is interesting, but the execution is not there. 1.5 stars because it didn’t outright piss me off and the writing was only half awful. And who doesn’t want to have sex on a rainbow?

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Kushiel’s Dart by Jacqueline Carey (Phèdre’s Trilogy #1)

22238208“When Love cast me out, it was Cruelty who took pity on me.”
In a kingdom born of angels, Phedre is an anguisette, cursed or blessed to find pleasure in pain. Sold to the Court of Night Blooming Flowers, her fate as a beautiful but anonymous courtesan was sealed. Her bond was purchased by the nobleman Anafiel Delauney, who recognized the scarlet mote in Phedre’s eye as the rare mark of one touched by a powerful deity. Under Delauney’s patronage she is trained in history, politics, language, and the use of body and mind as the ultimate weapon of subterfuge in a dangerous game of courtly intrigue. Guided into the bed chambers of Terre D’Ange’s most influential nobles, Phedre uncovers a conspiracy against the throne so vast that even her teacher cannot see the whole of it. Betrayed and blindsided by her own longings, only Phedre and her trusted bodyguard Joscelin are left to cross borders and warring armies in a race to stop the final blow from falling.

Review:

I’ve been meaning to read Kushiel’s Dart for a long time, but had trouble building up the nerve. It’s a big book – over 900 pages in some editions, and 656 in the oversized trade I read from.  There’s a map (what epic fantasy doesn’t have a map?) and a list of characters pages long.

I read the first chunk as part of a readathon, and that ended up being a good move. The beginning has a lot of names connected to shifting alliances to keep straight, and we’re introduced to the amazing world Carey has come up with. I can’t say I understood everything, but I felt comfortable enough to continue. The intrigue picks up in the middle, and before long we’re whisked to far off lands for adventure and so much more.

The worldbuilding is nothing short of amazing. There’s religion, politics, history, and current events that are both slightly familiar and quite alien. The characters are well drawn, flawed and believable.  The plot is truly epic, with travel and battles, allies and enemies, bonds strengthened and betrayed.

It must be said – S&M is not a small part of the plot. Phedre is cursed to feel pleasure from pain, and the sex she has may put off some people. Carey’s writing style is a bit flowery and while I enjoyed it, again, some people may not get along with it.

If you have any tiny like of fantasy, though, you must give Kushiel’s Dart a try – I’m not doing it justice here. A great way to end my reading year.

Surface Tension by Valentine Wheeler

42674588Sarai ran away from home to find a new life on the high seas. But when a storm destroys her ship and her life aboard it, she’s stuck on land with only a days-long hole in her memory and the tattered clothes on her back. What could have happened beneath the sea? And can the strange new world she finds when she investigates help her save the world she left behind?

Review:

I picked up Surface Tension because it’s an f/f romance with bi rep that has mermaids, and I need more of that in my life. It’s inspired by The Little Mermaid but goes off and does its own thing.

The good:

  • The author is autistic and bi, making for own voices bi rep, yea!
  • Serai’s yearns to be out at sea and make her own life to get away from a less than ideal father, and she does it. The beginning, where she meets an awful storm with her crew mates on the high seas, drew me right in.
  • The Ariel-esque character has the same grotto and love of human objects that you would expect, but with a more scientific bent, which is neat.
  • All of the icky parts of The Little Mermaid story are taken out so no one loses their voice to get legs, etc.
  • The under sea sections have the germ of a good idea, but…

The not-so-good:

  • The setting isn’t fleshed out much. It’s your typical European fantasy setting – vaguely medieval with a town, castle, forest, and ocean. I wanted more, especially from the under sea sections.
  • The one side character with any teeth, Nicholas, could have served the plot better.
  • I’m not sure I understood the point of the mermaids having four tentacles.
  • The end smacks of colonialism, which I did not like or expect.

After such a wonderful beginning I was left disappointed.

Thanks to Nine Star Press and Netgalley for providing a review copy.

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.

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.

 

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.

Peter Darling by Austin Chant

33358438Ten years ago, Peter Pan left Neverland to grow up, leaving behind his adolescent dreams of boyhood and resigning himself to life as Wendy Darling. Growing up, however, has only made him realize how inescapable his identity as a man is.

But when he returns to Neverland, everything has changed: the Lost Boys have become men, and the war games they once played are now real and deadly. Even more shocking is the attraction Peter never knew he could feel for his old rival, Captain Hook—and the realization that he no longer knows which of them is the real villain.

Review:

This is the second book by Chant I’ve read and I think I love it even more than the first.

The good:

  • This is a trans story written by a trans writer – huzzah own voices!
  • I love how Neverland lets Peter be most himself and how it relates to the romance in the story.
  • I know next to nothing about Peter Pan but it didn’t matter.  I’m guessing that if you’ve read the original there are parallels and references but I didn’t feel like I was missing anything.
  • One of fiction’s most powerful side effects, I think, is experiencing life as someone utterly unlike yourself.  I’ve read about body dysphoria in a non-fiction sense but feeling what Peter goes through makes it more clear than any informative article could.
  • The writing is just what it needs to be – exciting during the adventure parts, romantic during the “oh wait maybe this is love” parts, and held together with a solid plot.  It’s utterly different from Coffee Boy but Chant switches gears seamlessly.

The not-so-good:

  • While the book fits its pages I wanted so much more than a novella.  I don’t know if Chant writes as this length because it’s comfortable but I think he could blow us away with double the space to run around in.

A fun read that took me away from the crazy of real life just when I needed it.  A must for anyone who’s into LGBTQIA+ reads or retellings.

The Girl in the Tower by Katherine Arden (Winternight Trilogy #2)

34050917The magical adventure begun in The Bear and the Nightingale continues as brave Vasya, now a young woman, is forced to choose between marriage or life in a convent and instead flees her home—but soon finds herself called upon to help defend the city of Moscow when it comes under siege.

Review:

I was worried this wouldn’t be as good as The Bear and the Nightingale but you know what? I think I like this one better.

If you liked the slow set up and epic scale of the first book you may be disappointed, as there isn’t as much here.  Instead we have Vasya off on an adventure, seeing new places and meeting all kinds of people.  Even so Arden reintroduces us to characters in a gentle, non-jarring way, making it easy to follow the story even if you’ve forgotten who is who.

While some parts made me cringe – Vasya is young and makes her share of foolish mistakes – they’re in character and part of her development.  The only regrettable part for me is when she runs headlong into danger near the end.  I get the reason, and in a twisted way it was a smart thing to do, but it was a little too close to heroine bait/meaningless self-sacrifice for my liking.

Morozko is my favorite character and we get a lot of time with him here.  Everyone else, from Vasya’s siblings on down to servants is fleshed out and well characterized.

There’s no slump in Arden’s sophomore effort and I eagerly await the last book of the trilogy.

The Star King by Susan Grant (Star #1)

35805990Years ago, Air Force pilot Jas Boswell believed she met the love of her life. She shared a mesmerizing encounter with a stranger after a terrible crash. As soon as rescuers arrived, the mysterious golden-eyed man disappeared. She has spent the last two decades trying to convince herself it was all a dream…

Once heir to a galactic kingdom, Rom B’kah is captain of a starship of derelicts and smugglers. He remains haunted by the memory of the “saving angel” he met during wartime and who vanished without a trace. His loyal crew thinks he has pined for this fantasy woman long enough. Then Jas suddenly returns to him and sets their lives on a collision course with destiny…

Review:

I was hooked early on but as the story developed I lost interest and got more and more annoyed.

The good:

  • The world building early on is well done and kept me curious about what this Earth was like and who the aliens who want to visit are. The story is contained and moves at a good pace.
  • At the beginning Jas’ development as a character is realistic and interesting.  She works hard to learn an alien language from scratch and while she’s a quick study Grant lets her grasp for words and speak awkwardly.  As someone who lives and interprets in a second language learned as an adult I can totally relate.

The not-so-good:

  • Once the action moves off Earth and into space the tightness of the world and plot fall apart.  The setting is expanded tenfold with all kinds of planets and peoples and things to take in, losing what groundedness it had.
  • Jas gets an case of being too stupid to live.  Rom leaves her to wait in a hotel with all kinds of warnings – keep your hood up so people don’t realize you’re from Earth, don’t stray far, oh and here’s a bodyguard to keep you safe.  So of course Jas immediately talks to random people and accepts their invitation to go up to a remote mountain retreat because, something.  And when they give her a necklace that freaks the hell out of birds she doesn’t get suspicious, just thinks ‘ah, silly birds, scared of a benign piece of jewelry.’ Gah.
  • While early on Jas’ language acquisition is within the realm of suspendable belief later she’s all, ‘I’m picking up this completely different alien tongue just by eavesdropping on conversations for a few days’.  Maybe if she was with three year olds or something, but high-level political conversations when you don’t know the grammar or how to read it?  I call bull.
  • The hero and heroine have sex on the top of a giant snail.  For real.  It’s the sort of thing that could be amazing in a crazy way if done right but I’m not even sure why the scene is there.

If the second half were as good as the first this would be an amazing read but alas, I don’t even think I’m going to pick up the next in the series.

Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire (Wayward Children #2)

31450908This book languished on my to be read list for a long time, but not because I was putting it off.  On the contrary, I thought about picking it up constantly but was looking for the “right” moment.  A moment I needed an escape, a moment long enough to devour 189 pages in one sitting, a moment I could be quiet and sink into the world McGuire introduced in Every Heart a Doorway.  Those moments lined up on an evening in late December – add a proper cup of chai and you have a near perfect escape.

The Wayward Children series is about children who fell into other worlds via some sort of portal (think Alice in Wonderland or Narnia) and, for whatever reason, eventually found their way back to the real world. This is a happy thing for some but twin sisters Jack and Jill have a… let’s call it a complicated relationship with both the realm they grew up in and and the realm they slip into.

I don’t want to give anything away so I’ll end the particulars there.  I’m a fan of McGuire because she builds worlds right under your nose, no info dumps required.  The narrator is not part of the story, not really, but relating it to the reader.  It’s a remove that lets McGuire talk to us directly – we’re all around a campfire, hanging on her every word.

There are moments that change everything, and once things have been changed, they do not change back.  The butterfly may never again become a caterpillar… [the girls] will never again be the innocent, untouched children who wandered down a stairway, who went through a door.

They have been changed.

The story changes with them.

I highlighted many passages from Doorway for this reason, but fewer in Sticks and Bones.  On the whole this book is more solid and assured in its plotting and length but I still liked it a touch less than the series opener.  The message – we should let kids be who they are and not impose gender or other roles upon them – is awesome, and I appreciate that there is LGBTQIA+ representation (f/f relationship), but it hasn’t stuck with me as much as I hoped.

Fear not because the next installment, Beneath the Sugar Sky, comes out in a few weeks.  I’ll keep my chai close at hand, ready for that elusive perfect moment.