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08 Mar, 2017

The Unintentional Time Traveler

/ posted in: General The Unintentional Time Traveler The Unintentional Time Traveler by Everett Maroon
on February 24th 2014
Pages: 248
Genres: Fiction, Science Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Booktrope Editions
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Kentucky

Fifteen-year-old Jack Bishop has mad skills with cars and engines, but knows he’ll never get a driver’s license because of his epilepsy. Agreeing to participate in an experimental clinical trial to find new treatments for his disease, he finds himself in a completely different body—that of a girl his age, Jacqueline, who defies the expectations of her era.

Goodreads

Jack starts to travel back in time during his seizures.  It takes a few times before he realizes what is going on.  Each time he is in the past for a longer period.  He gets dropped into a body of a girl in the 1920s named Jacqueline.  It is very Quantum Leap.

The town Jacqueline lives in is being terrorized by a local minister.  Jack is being dropped into different points in time to try to save the town.  But everything he does changes the timeline.

I enjoyed this book but it frustrated me.  It left me with several questions.  Years will pass while Jack is in the past but he is not in a coma.  He is going on with his life in the present day.  How?  Does anyone notice that he is not quite himself?  The same things happen with Jacqueline in the past.  Who is in their bodies when Jack/Jacqueline isn’t?  Is Jacqueline in Jack?  Are they just switching places?  Hopefully this will be addressed in future installments of the story.  This is book one of a series.

The author is transgender.  Had I not known that going into the book, I might have missed the exploration of gender and sexuality that happens in the story.  When Jack first finds himself in a female body he is very uncomfortable.  Over time he no longer has an issue with it.  Jacqueline is not considered to be a conventionally feminine woman of her time but she is still a more feminine person than Jack is in the future. Jacqueline has a relationship with a man named Lucas that starts when Jack is in her body.  When he jumps back into his own body he misses Lucas and worries about him.  That relationship fuels his desire to learn to master time travel to get back and help Jacqueline.  The author never comes out and says what gender or sexual orientation anyone is considered.  They just are who they are and love who they love.  It is so matter of fact that that is the reason why I might have missed the complexity if I wasn’t specifically looking at the gender dynamics.

This is a fun time travel mystery.  Read it if you like historical fiction with some suspense.

 

About Everett Maroon

Everett Maroon is a memoirist, pop culture commentator, and speculative fiction writer. He has a B.A. in English from Syracuse University and went through an English literature master’s program there. He is a member of the Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association; Bumbling into Body Hair was a finalist in their 2010 literary contest for memoir. Everett writes about writing and living in the Northwest at trans/plant/portation.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
07 Mar, 2017

Asian Short Fiction

/ posted in: Reading Asian Short Fiction The Terracotta Bride by Zen Cho
on March 10, 2016
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Book Smugglers Publishing
Format: eBook
Source: Owned
Setting: Hell

In the tenth court of hell, spirits wealthy enough to bribe the bureaucrats of the underworld can avoid both the torments of hell and the irreversible change of reincarnation.

It's a comfortable undeath … even for Siew Tsin. She didn't choose to be married to the richest man in hell, but she's reconciled. Until her husband brings home a new bride.

Goodreads

I loved Zen Cho’s novel Sorcerer to the Crown so I was excited to read some of her shorter fiction.

This story takes place in Hell. In the Chinese version you can advance through levels.  If you have descendants who burn paper offerings for you regularly, you can make a pretty nice life for yourself in the Tenth Court of Hell.  If you don’t have the money to live well or bribe the officials, you will have to reincarnate and start all over.

In this story a girl is taken as a second wife of a well off man.  The first wife is estranged. Everything is going fine until he brings home a third wife.  This wife is made of animated terra cotta. These terra cotta people are designed to be perfect servants but it doesn’t go the way he planned.

Asian Short Fiction Hunting Monsters (Hunting Monsters #1) by S.L. Huang
on October 7th 2014
Pages: 50
Published by Book Smugglers Publishing

“Happy birthday, child. Careful not to shoot any grundwirgen.”
Ever since she was a small girl, she has learned to be careful on the hunt, to recognize the signs that separate regular animals from human-cursed grundwirgen. To harm a grundwirgen is a crime punishable by death by the King's decree - a fatal mistake that her Auntie Rosa and mother have carefully prepared her to avoid.
On her fifteenth birthday, when her mother is arrested and made to stand trial for grundwirgen murder, everything she thought she knew about her family and her past comes crashing down.
Auntie Rosa has always warned her about monsters. Now, she must find and confront them to save her mother, no matter the cost.

Goodreads

I didn’t realize that this was a fairy tale retelling or a short story when I started reading it.  A girl has been trained to hunt since she was small.  There are people who turn into animals and animals with higher consciousness around so you have to be careful not to hunt them.  Her mother is arrested for a long ago murder of someone and all the secrets of her mother and her mother’s lover come out.

I don’t want to say a lot more about it because I think seeing it unfold without preconceived ideas of what would happen was part of the fun.  Read this one if you like updated fairy tales with twists.


Both of these are excellent short fiction pieces that can introduce you to these authors.  They each feature lesbian characters and Asian or multiracial leads.  Pick them up.

About S.L. Huang

SL Huang justifies her MIT degree by using it to write eccentric mathematical superhero fiction. She is the author of the Amazon-bestselling Russell’s Attic series, and her short fiction has appeared in Strange Horizons, Daily Science Fiction, and The Best American Science Fiction & Fantasy 2016. She is also a Hollywood stuntwoman and firearms expert, where she’s appeared on shows such as “Battlestar Galactica” and “Raising Hope” and worked with actors such as Sean Patrick Flanery, Jason Momoa, and Danny Glover. She currently lives in Tokyo. Online, she is cheerfully opinionated at www.slhuang.com and on Twitter as @sl_huang.

About Zen Cho

“I’m a London-based Malaysian author of speculative fiction and romance. My debut novel, Sorcerer to the Crown, is the first in a historical fantasy trilogy published by Ace/Roc (US) and Pan Macmillan (UK and Commonwealth). ” from her website

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in Asia
  • LBGTQ authors/characters
  • POC authors
06 Mar, 2017

A Great Reckoning

/ posted in: Reading A Great Reckoning A Great Reckoning by Louise Penny
on August 30th 2016
Pages: 389
Genres: Crime & Mystery, Fiction
Published by Minotaur Books
Format: ARC
Source: From author/publisher

When an intricate old map is found stuffed into the walls of the bistro in Three Pines, it at first seems no more than a curiosity. But the closer the villagers look, the stranger it becomes.
Given to Armand Gamache as a gift the first day of his new job, the map eventually leads him to shattering secrets. To an old friend and older adversary. It leads the former Chief of Homicide for the Sûreté du Québec to places even he is afraid to go but must.
And there he finds four young cadets in the Sûreté academy, and a dead professor. And, with the body, a copy of the old, odd map.

Goodreads

I had never heard of this detective series until BEA 2016 when Louise Penny was one of the speakers at the adult breakfast.  This is the twelfth book in the series.  Normally I would never start a series in the middle but I had a copy of the book so I decided to try it.

This seems like a good place for new readers to start.  From what I gathered from the text, the detective at the heart of the story had investigated police corruption.  After this investigation, a lot of high ranking people were arrested.  The detective retired from the police.  Now he is taking an interim job as the director of the police academy.  He knows that a lot of students are coming out of the school predisposed to brutal conduct.  He wants to change the culture of the training.

You don’t need to know much about what happened before to enjoy this book.  What you need is explained in the text.  The detective lives in a small town that is not on any maps.  An old map of his town is found in a wall in a local shop.  It has a lot of strange pictures on it.  As an exercise, he gives a few cadets copies of the map and asks them to figure out the mystery behind it.  Then his major suspect for teaching police misconduct is murdered and a copy of the map is in his nightstand.  The detective thinks someone is trying to frame one of the students – a girl whom he admitted to the school after she was previously turned away.

There are several mysteries explored in this book. Who killed the professor? Why did the new director admit this girl to the school? Why isn’t the town of Three Pines on any official maps?  Who made the one map it is on?

This book is set in Quebec City and the surrounding countryside.  I haven’t read many books set in Quebec.  The author lives there and her love for the community and culture comes through.

I’d recommend this book for anyone who like police stories and mysteries.  It was interesting enough that I will pick up future books.  I probably won’t go backwards because reading this one does tell you what happened in the previous books.

 

About Louise Penny

She lives with her husband, Michael, and a golden retriever named Trudy, in a small village south of Montreal.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Books Set in North America
27 Feb, 2017

A Criminal Magic

/ posted in: Reading A Criminal Magic A Criminal Magic by Lee Kelly
on February 2nd 2016
Pages: 422
Genres: Fantasy, Fiction
Published by Saga Press
Format: eBook
Source: Owned

Magic is powerful, dangerous and addictive - and after passage of the 18th Amendment, it is finally illegal.
Joan Kendrick, a young sorcerer from Norfolk County, Virginia accepts an offer to work for DC's most notorious crime syndicate, the Shaw Gang, when her family's home is repossessed. Alex Danfrey, a first-year Federal Prohibition Unit trainee with a complicated past and talents of his own, becomes tapped to go undercover and infiltrate the Shaws.
Through different paths, Joan and Alex tread deep into the violent, dangerous world of criminal magic.

Goodreads

Prohibition in the 1920s recast as a ban on magic instead of alcohol?  Yes, please.

Magic has been driven underground.  After a person does magic they are able to focus their energy into liquid to make a magical brew called shine.  The more complicated the magic, the stronger the shine.  Speakeasies pop up where people can watch an illegal magic show and then buy the shine that the sorcerers make after the performance.  Shine can’t be bottled.  It doesn’t keep past a few hours.  The person who learns how to bottle it stands to make a fortune.

A group of powerful sorcerers are brought together to compete for the chance to be part of a high end speakeasy.  As the profits and the magic soars, the sorcerers find themselves kept captive by the criminal bosses that own the club.

This book had so much promise that I don’t feel like it fully lived up to.  It was good but at the end there was a vague feeling that it should have been more.  It might be The Night Circus effect.  Every book that involves setting up magical venues is going to pale a bit in my mind when compared to that book.

Read this book if you are more into 1920s stories with gangsters than urban fantasy.  It much more of a criminal story than a magic-first story.  Magic is the illegal substance that fuels the crime, not an end unto itself.

There are times of great imagination and other times the grand spectacles that the sorcerers are supposed to be making fell a little flat for me.  I mean, I’m sure making a sunset out of thin air would be cool in person but this is fantasy so I’d expect something grander for the highest-end club in Washington, D.C.

 

About Lee Kelly

“Lee Kelly has wanted to write since she was old enough to hold a pencil, but it wasn’t until she began studying for the California Bar Exam that she conveniently started putting pen to paper.

An entertainment lawyer by trade, Lee has practiced law in Los Angeles and New York.

She lives with her husband and son in Millburn, New Jersey, though after a decade in Manhattan, she can’t help but still call herself a New Yorker.”  from Goodreads

13 Feb, 2017

Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic

/ posted in: Reading Her Nightly Embrace – Fun but oh so problematic Her Nightly Embrace (Ravi PI #1) by Adi Tantimedh
on November 1st 2016
Pages: 320
Series: Ravi PI #1
Genres: Fiction
Published by Atria/Leopoldo & Co.
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: England

Ravi Chandra Singh is the last guy you’d expect to become a private detective. A failed religious scholar, he now works for Golden Sentinels, an upmarket London private investigations agency. His colleagues are a band of gleefully amoral and brilliant screw-ups: Ken and Clive, a pair of brutal ex-cops who are also a gay couple; Mark Chapman, a burned-out stoner hiding a great mind; Marcie Holder, a cheerful former publicist; Benjamin Lee, a techie prankster from South London; David Okri, an ambitious lawyer from a well-connected Nigerian immigrant family; and Olivia Wong, an upper-class Hong Kong financial analyst hiding her true skills as one of the most dangerous hackers in the world—all under the watchful eye of Roger Golden, wheeler-dealer extraordinaire, and his mysterious office manager, Cheryl Hughes.
Thrust into a world where the rich, famous, and powerful hire him to solve their problems and wash their dirty laundry, Ravi finds himself in over his head with increasingly gonzo and complex cases – and the recent visions that he’s been having of Hindu gods aren’t helping. As Ravi struggles to stay ahead of danger, he wonders if the things he’s seeing are a delusion – or if he might, in fact, be an unrecognized shaman of the modern world...

Goodreads

I loved this story of a private eye handling high profile cases while the Hindu gods watch him and text on their phones.  There are several cases discussed here and they were well done.  I want to read more in this series to see what happens with the gods.

BUT….

The first case in the book is super problematic.  It only covers maybe the first 1/3 of the book so discussing it isn’t going to going spoil the whole thing but here’s your warning.

A politician comes to the agency because he says that his dead girlfriend is having sex with him at night.  It turns out that the politician takes a lot of sleeping pills at night so he isn’t fully aware of what is going on.  His former girlfriend was a transwoman and he didn’t know.  She was mid-transition when she got sick and then met him.  Instead of talking to him about, you know, her life or anything, she would have her twin sister switch places with her at night.  Her sister had sex with him.  Then the girlfriend died of her illness and the sister kept sneaking into the house and having sex with the drugged guy because she was a sex addict.

(Go ahead and pick all the nonsense out of that paragraph at your leisure.)

Ok, so no matter how you dress that up, that’s a rape case.  But, the word rape is never uttered.  I think the closest they get is saying assault.  I believe you are meant to feel bad for the woman who might get prosecuted if the politician decides to go public.  I didn’t.

But then ….. wait for it…..

The woman who should be in jail for rape not only starts dating the main character but she gets a job in the agency.

via GIPHY
I kept listening in hope that something was going to happen to get them to all see that this was wrong. They don’t. The rest of the book is so much better than this.  This story could easily have been gotten rid of and not affect the rest of the book.  I would love to think that when they adapt this for TV that they will live this case out but these things never work out the way I’d like.

About Adi Tantimedh

Adi Tantimedh has a BA in English Literature from Bennington College and an MFA in Film and Television Production from New York University. He is of Chinese-Thai descent and came of age in Singapore and London. He has written radio plays and television scripts for the BBC and screenplays for various Hollywood companies, as well as graphic novels for DC Comics and Big Head Press, and a weekly column about pop culture for BleedingCool.com. He wrote “Zinky Boys Go Underground,” the first post-Cold War Russian gangster thriller, which won the BAFTA for Best Short Film in 1995.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • Books Set in Europe
  • POC authors
07 Feb, 2017

I Almost Forgot About You

/ posted in: Reading I Almost Forgot About You I Almost Forgot About You by Terry McMillan
on June 7th 2016
Pages: 368
Genres: Contemporary, Fiction, Love & Romance
Published by Crown
Format: Audiobook
Source: Library
Setting: California

In I Almost Forgot About You, Dr. Georgia Young's wonderful life--great friends, family, and successful career--aren't enough to keep her from feeling stuck and restless. When she decides to make some major changes in her life, quitting her job as an optometrist, and moving house, she finds herself on a wild journey that may or may not include a second chance at love.

Goodreads

Georgia’s life is turned around when she finds out that a person she loved in college has died.  She decides to get in touch with the men she has loved to tell them that she appreciated them.

I decided to download this book on a whim before a long road trip.  It was fun and laugh at loud funny in parts.  Georgia is trying to decide what to do with her life.  Her children are grown.  Her job is boring her.  She wants to make a change but isn’t sure what that will look like.  In the meantime, she is dealing with her mother’s remarriage, her daughters’ marriages and pregnancies, and her friends deciding that they too will be making big changes.  Facing the men from her past feels like too much at times.

The first thing Georgia wants to do in her new life is to take a solo train trip from San Francisco to Vancouver and then across Canada.  That’s something I’ve always wanted to do too.  I’d love to just look at the scenery and read for a week.  It sounds like the perfect introvert trip.

The women  in her life are very against her traveling solo.  They even imply that she shouldn’t go on her trip unless she can take a man with her, even though Georgia isn’t in a relationship and hasn’t dated in years.  That annoyed me.

Bad rep alert:

There is a minor storyline about a man leaving his wife for his boyfriend.  This is discussed as the man being gay now. Bisexuality is never discussed.  That’s a missed opportunity.  The wife doesn’t want him to discuss this with their children until they are older.  It seems to imply that homosexuality/bisexuality has to remain an adults-only conversation.  This is refuted later when the kids talk about it very matter of factly. They obviously aren’t traumatized at all.

There is a man in Georgia’s life who seems to me to be very smug.  He routinely overrides what Georgia says she wants.  This is portrayed in the book as romantic and him knowing Georgia better than she knows herself.  I found it a bit creepy.


Despite its issues, I really enjoyed this book.  The depictions of female friendships are very well done.  I love her friend Wanda and her outlook on Georgia’s life.  This is a great light read when you want a book that will make you laugh.

Reading this book contributed to these challenges:

  • Audiobooks
  • POC authors
07 Dec, 2016

The Chocolate Apothecary

/ posted in: Reading The Chocolate Apothecary The Chocolate Apothecary by Josephine Moon
on June 24, 2015
Genres: Fiction
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Setting: Australia
Goodreads

“Christmas Livingstone has formulated 10 top rules for happiness by which she tries very hard to live. Nurturing the senses every day, doing what you love, sharing joy with others are some of the rules but the most important for her is no. 10 – absolutely no romantic relationships!
Her life is good now. Creating her enchantingly seductive shop, The Chocolate Apothecary, and exploring the potential medicinal uses of chocolate makes her happy; her friends surround her; and her role as a fairy godmother to her community allows her to share her joy. She doesn’t need a handsome botany ace who knows everything about cacao to walk into her life. One who has the nicest grandmother – Book Club Captain at Green Hills Aged Care Facility and intent on interfering – a gorgeous rescue dog, and who wants her help to write a book. She really doesn’t need any of that at all.
Or does she?”


I hardly ever find any Australian books to read.  I’m not sure why.  I was so excited when this turned out to be set in Tasmania!  I don’t know that I’ve ever read a book set there.

Christmas owns a chocolate store that reminds me a lot of the one in Chocolat, without the magical realism.  Her goal is to combine chocolate and medicine.  She started to store after a heartbreak on the mainland.  Now she is content in her life.  There are two big opportunities for her coming up.  She has a chance to go to an eccentric chocolate making week-long course in France and she is asked to co-write a book on chocolate with a botanist.  Both of these are exciting on their own, but her friends and family are interfering.  They think she should look up her long lost father in France and they think that she should see the botanist as a romantic opportunity.  Christmas is fine without either complication, thank you very much.

This book is mainly about the characters.  Christmas and her family are all unique personalities as are the residents at the Aged Care Facility who decide to work as matchmakers.  That distracts them from the cut throat competition to be in charge of the book club.  There isn’t a lot that happens in the story but getting to know the people is the real joy of this book.

 

foodiesreadsmall

Linking up with Foodies Read and I will have a copy of this book available as a prize for people linking up with us.

 

05 Dec, 2016

Fatima’s Good Fortune

/ posted in: Reading Fatima’s Good Fortune Fatima's Good Fortune: A Novel by Joanne Dryansky, Gerry Dryansky
on June 22nd 2005
Pages: 336
Genres: Europe, Fiction
Published by Miramax Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: France
Goodreads

“Freshly arrived from a beautiful Tunisian island to work for the exacting Countess Poulais du Roc, Fatima finds herself in a city where even the most mundane tasks like walking the dog and buying the groceries prove baffling. But her natural compassion ensures her survival, and-unexpectedly-brings good fortune to those around her.”


Fatima’s younger sister, Rachida, moved from the Tunisian island of Djerba to Paris to make a better life for herself.  She was working as a maid for the Countess when she was killed in an accident.  The Countess remembers that Rachida had a sister and imperiously sends for her to take her sister’s place.  She considers this a mission of charity but doesn’t think about the impact on Fatima’s life.  That is the major character flaw of the Countess.  She is so self-centered that she doesn’t think about the needs of anyone other than herself and her dog, Emma.  She moves through other people’s lives like a battering ram oblivious to the damage that she is causing.  She takes credit for good deeds that others have done and never gets called out on her casual racism.

She is shocked to find out that Fatima is nothing like her sister.  Fatima went to work in a resort as a cleaner as a child.  This income allowed Rachida to go to school.  Fatima is illiterate.  She is not as worldly as Rachida.  Life in France is overwhelming to her.

Fatima enlists the help of others in her building to help her learn the skills that she needs to survive in France.  She has a warmth that draws others to her and makes them want to help her.  The reader sees this slice of Paris through the eyes of a North African immigrant who isn’t always welcomed.

The ending is mostly an immigrant fairy tale.  Everything works out wonderfully and not that realistically.  This book tries to make a light and fun tale out of some serious subjects – immigration, class inequality, the death of a family member – so even as you root for the characters it feels jarring like no one is taking this as seriously as is merited.

I have really mixed feelings about this one.  While reading it, I wanted to know what was going to happen in the story but wasn’t sure about the tone.  Was the racist and classist representation of the Countess meant to point out the bad behavior of French people?  With everyone around her not commenting on it I wasn’t sure if it was that or if the book was somehow trying to condone it – “Oh, that’s just how rich old ladies are.”  All the Africans are wonderful, amazing people who improve the lives of everyone they interact with.  There is no nuance.  It made me thing of the magical negro trope.

03 Nov, 2016

Can You Afford Your Life? The Invoice

/ posted in: Reading Can You Afford Your Life?  The Invoice The Invoice by Jonas Karlsson
on July 12th 2016
Pages: 204
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hogarth
Format: Hardcover
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Sweden
Goodreads

“A passionate film buff, our hero’s life revolves around his part-time job at a video store, the company of a few precious friends, and a daily routine that more often than not concludes with pizza and movie in his treasured small space in Stockholm. When he receives an astronomical invoice from a random national bureaucratic agency, everything will tumble into madness as he calls the hotline night and day to find out why he is the recipient of the largest bill in the entire country.”


Our hero lives a small life.  He doesn’t pay much attention to the outside world.  He works part time at a video store that specializes in obscure foreign films that no one wants to rent.  He had a girlfriend once but she left him to go marry the man her family chose.  He has one friend.

When the bill comes it is a shock.  Why would he owe 500,000 kronor (about $55,000)?  Who does he owe it to?  He calls the number on the bill and finds out.

Everyone in the world is being charged a fee for the happiness in their lives.

He has the largest bill in Sweden.  He’s sure there has to be a mistake.  He is allowed to appeal and this starts an investigation about whether he truly is the happiest man in Sweden.


I related to the man in this story.  He doesn’t have a life that anyone would objectively describe as great from the outside but he is satisfied with his situation.  As much as I come across as sarcastic and cynical at first glance, I’m actually a happy person.  It pains me to say it.  I don’t want to be an optimist but it seems to be a fact.  I was told this in no uncertain terms by my ex-husband.  In fact, he listed it as one of my major flaws.  “You’re happy in whatever situation you’re in,” he spat at me in true anger.  He took that to be a character flaw that led to my lack of desire for social climbing.  Recently, I had lunch with a former coworker.  At one point she said to me, “You don’t like to seem like it, but you’re nice” in a tone usually reserved for statements like, “You are a horrible racist pig.”

Another thing that raised the hero’s bill was his ability to see the best in situations and to learn from them.  I’m afraid that in both of the above situations I was thinking as they happened that each was going to make a wonderful story.  When my husband complains about the time in St. Thomas when I almost had us fall off a cliff into the ocean at night I always respond, “We had an adventure!”  Oh, I am so screwed when my happiness bill comes due.

This is a great short story about finding out what is truly valuable in life.

What do you think that your happiness bill would be?

 

 

02 Nov, 2016

The Whole Town’s Talking

/ posted in: Reading The Whole Town’s Talking The Whole Town's Talking by Fannie Flagg
on November 29th 2016
Pages: 224
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Published by Random House
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Missouri
Goodreads

“Elmwood Springs, Missouri, is a small town like any other, but something strange is happening out at the cemetery. “Still Meadows,” as it’s called, is anything but still.”


I love Fannie Flagg’s books.  You know what you are going to get with them.  They will be funny and heartfelt stories of small towns.

This is the story of the founding of Elmwood Springs, Missouri.  It is settled by Swedish farmers who decide that they need to carve out a town to support their farms.  The first white settler in the area was named Lordor Nordstrom.  Eventually the women of the surrounding farms decide that he needs a wife.  He advertises for a bride and finds a nice Swedish woman in Chicago.  Their romance is sweet and charming.

The town grows through the years and eventually the founding settlers begin to die.  This is where the story takes a turn.  In Elmwood Springs the residents of the cemetery are still involved in town life.  They keep up on the local gossip from interviewing new arrivals and from listening to what visitors to the cemetery say.

I liked the beginning of the book but most of the cemetery section was less interesting for me.  The action skipped over years at a time.  It was hard to keep track of the family trees as time passed.  The epilogue of the book redeemed it for me though.  It ties together what appeared to be major plot holes in the story in a satisfying way.

This was a quick read. I read it in one setting.  This is a great book for a cozy night of comfort reading when you don’t want anything too challenging.

 

Book received from NetGalley in exchange for a review
28 Oct, 2016

Juliet Takes a Breath

/ posted in: Reading Juliet Takes a Breath Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fiction
Format: Audiobook
Source: Audible, Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Oregon
Goodreads

“Juliet Milagros Palante is leaving the Bronx and headed to Portland, Oregon. She just came out to her family and isn’t sure if her mom will ever speak to her again. But Juliet has a plan, sort of, one that’s going to help her figure out this whole “Puerto Rican lesbian” thing. She’s interning with the author of her favorite book: Harlowe Brisbane, the ultimate authority on feminism, women’s bodies, and other gay-sounding stuff.
Will Juliet be able to figure out her life over the course of one magical summer? Is that even possible? Or is she running away from all the problems that seem too big to handle?
With more questions than answers, Juliet takes on Portland, Harlowe, and most importantly, herself. “


Everyone needs to read Juliet Takes a Breath

Ok, that was easy.  Review over.

Seriously though, this book has something to say to everyone.

Juliet is nineteen and has her first girlfriend.  Her family doesn’t know and that bothers her.  They are very close and keeping something this important from them feels wrong to her.  She tells them right before she leaves for the summer to do an internship in Portland with her favorite author.  The reception is not what she hoped for.

Portland isn’t what she expected either.  It is so overwhelmingly white but the white people are weirder than any white people she’s met before.  If she’s come to her favorite lesbian author’s house, why is there a naked man in the kitchen?  Why doesn’t she understand what anyone is talking about?

There is no right way to be

Juliet had idolized Harlowe as a lesbian author who seemed to have the answers to everything.  But as Juliet gets more involved in Harlowe’s world she sees that some of the ideas that Harlowe has might not be right for her.  Part of her growing up and owning her own story is finding out how she needs to branch out and be different.  Learning what to keep and what to reject is hard.  She needs to see a variety of ways of being a lesbian so she realizes that there are options out there.

Likewise, Harlowe can’t mold Juliet to fit into her preferred narrative.  This causes conflict in the book as they try to find neutral ground to speak to each other.

Not everyone speaks your language

Juliet doesn’t have the background in the language of the LGBT movement to be able to understand everything that people in Portland are talking about.  Preferred pronouns?  Polyamory?  As readers follow Juliet’s stories they are exposed to concepts that they may also have not known about.  It is also a reminder not to denigrate people who may not know the “correct” terminology but to educate.

This is a book for anyone who has ever felt out of place but who wants to belong.  Juliet is charming and you root for her the whole way through the book.

I listened to the audio version of this book.  The narration was amazing.  Her accents were well done and the Spanish in the book flowed naturally in the story.

Do yourself a favor.  Pick up this book and fall in love with Juliet.

 

27 Sep, 2016

Smile As They Bow

/ posted in: Reading Smile As They Bow Smile As They Bow by Nu Nu Yi
on September 1st 2008
Pages: 146
Genres: Fiction
Published by Hachette Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Myanmar
Goodreads

“As the weeklong Taungbyon Festival draws near, thousands of villagers from all regions of Burma descend upon a tiny hamlet near Mandalay to pay respect to the spirits, known as nats, which are central to Burmese tradition. At the heart of these festivities is Daisy Bond, a gay, transvestite spiritual medium in his fifties. With his sharp tongue and vivid performances, he has long been revered as one of the festival’s most illustrious natkadaws. At his side is Min Min, his young assistant and lover, who endures unyielding taunts and abuse from his fiery boss. But when a young beggar girl named Pan Nyo threatens to steal Min Min’s heart, the outrageous Daisy finds himself face-to-face with his worst fears.”


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I bought this book several years ago when I was trying to read books set in as many countries as possible. I had never seen any other books written by a Burmese author. I never got around to reading it though. I finally decided to get to it during the #diverseathon readathon. I’m glad I did.

I didn’t know anything about nats or the Taungbyon festival to honor these spirits in Myanmar. Worshippers, mostly women, come to the festival to promise the nats favors and offerings if they help their family in the coming year. The book opens with beautiful descriptions of some of the people coming to the festival – a pickpocket lamenting the poor pickings this year, a poor woman, and a rich woman. Once the stage is set, the story moves to Daisy Bond and Min Min.

Daisy is a natkadaw or spirit medium. He pretends to be possessed by a spirit to bestow blessings in exchange for cash. The women around him will hear about it if they don’t offer him enough cash too.  Min Min is his “husband.”  He acts as a manager for both Daisy’s career and house as well as being his lover.  Daisy is very insecure about his relationship with Min Min.  Daisy is in his 50s and Min Min is a teenager.  Min Min also isn’t gay.  Daisy bought him from his mother to serve this role in Daisy’s life.  He knows Min Min isn’t happy and is afraid that he is planning on leaving.  His paranoia is serving to push Min Min farther and farther away until he does make plans to get away from Daisy.

Here’s a video that shows what the festival looks like now.

This book is beautifully written and draws you into the festival that you’ve probably never heard of.

15 Sep, 2016

Two Boys Kissing

/ posted in: Reading Two Boys Kissing Two Boys Kissing by David Levithan
on August 27th 2013
Pages: 196
Genres: Fiction, Young Adult
Published by Knopf Books for Young Readers
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Goodreads

“David Levithan tells the based-on-true-events story of Harry and Craig, two 17-year-olds who are about to take part in a 32-hour marathon of kissing to set a new Guinness World Record—all of which is narrated by a Greek Chorus of the generation of gay men lost to AIDS.”


I’d seen this book around but wasn’t really interested.  Contemporary YA isn’t my thing.  Then I heard last week that it was narrated by the spirits of men who died of AIDS and I had to read it.

I devoured this book in one afternoon.  When the husband came home that night I told him that a book made me cry – twice.  He was as surprised as I was that a book melted my ice-cold heart.

This is the story of three couples and of a single teenager.  Craig and Harry are exes who are looking to set the world record for kissing at over 32 hours.  They were inspired by a homophobic attack on their friend Tariq.  Craig isn’t out to his family.

Peter and Neil have been a couple for over a year.  Neil’s family is still not acknowledging his homosexuality.

Avery and Ryan just met last night.  Avery is trans and is worried about letting Ryan know.

Cooper’s family just found out that he is gay and the resulting argument drove him out of the house.

These aren’t the stories that got to me though.  I think that’s because I’m older than the typical YA demographic.  It was the narration of the dead men watching these boys openly live their lives in ways that the men of the 1980s couldn’t have dreamed of.

“You can’t know what it is like for us now — you will always be one step behind.

Be thankful for that.

You can’t know what it was like for us then — you will always be one step ahead.

Be thankful for that too.”

Those are the opening lines of the book and that’s when I started getting teary.  The passage that made the tears roll down my cheeks is later when Craig and Harry was going into the first night of the kiss.  They have teachers watching as official monitors so the record counts.  The teacher that is taking over the shift is recognized by the narrators.

“He’s Mr. Ballamy to his history students.  But he’s Tom to us.  Tom! It’s so good to see him.  So wonderful to see him.  Tom is one of us.  Tom went through it all with us.  Tom made it through.”

It goes on to tell the story of a man who lost his partner in the first wave of the AIDS epidemic and stayed in the community to nurse others.

“He lost years of his life to us although that’s not the story he’d tell.  He would say he gained.  And he’d say he was lucky, because when he came down with it, when his blood turned against him, it was a little later on and the cocktail was starting to work.  So he lived.  He made it to a different kind of after from the rest of us.  It is still an after.  Every day it feels to him like an after.  But he is here.  He is living…..

…. But this is what losing most of your friends does:  It makes you unafraid.  Whatever anyone threatens, whatever anyone is offended by, it doesn’t matter, because you have already survived much, much worse.  If fact, you are still surviving.  You survive every single, blessed day.”


I would recommend this book to everyone.  Younger people will likely identify with the problems of the teens in the story.  Older readers, especially those of us who remember the 80s, will think of all of those lost to the disease whose stories were never told.

06 Sep, 2016

Leftovers

/ posted in: Reading Leftovers Leftovers by Stella Newman
on April 25th 2013
Pages: 400
Genres: Fiction, Great Britain
Published by Avon
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“According to a magazine, Susie is a ‘Leftover’ – a post Bridget-Jones 30 something who has neither her dream man, job, nor home. She doesn’t even own six matching dinner plates.
According to her friend Rebecca, Susie needs to get over her ex, Jake, start online dating – or at least stop being so rude to every guy who tries to chat her up.
But Susie’s got a plan. If she can just make it the 307 days till her promotion and bonus, she can finally quit and pursue her dream career in food, then surely everything else will fall into place.”


Susie is a girl after my own heart.  She has a theory that every type of emotional turmoil can be cured by the application of just the right type of pasta.

She spends her days writing advertising copy for a company that doesn’t appreciate her.  She’s counting the days until her promised promotion is here.  With the bonus money she makes, she is leaving that job and going into food full time.  In the meantime she is muddling through and obsessively watching her ex’s new girlfriend’s Instagram feed.

This is chick lit at its finest.  The cover is even pink.  I love books that combine food and a hint of romance.

The ending is one that any blogger will find themselves laughing out loud over (because it is so delightfully improbable but fun to imagine.)

There are also recipes for lots of types of pasta to full any need in your life.

5bunny

05 Sep, 2016

The Polish Boxer

/ posted in: Reading The Polish Boxer The Polish Boxer by Eduardo Halfon
on October 2nd 2012
Pages: 188
Genres: Fiction
Published by Bellevue Literary Press
Format: Paperback
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Guatemala and Serbia
Goodreads

Translated by Thomas Bunstead, Lisa Dillman, Daniel Hahn, Anne McLean, and Ollie Brock

“The Polish Boxer covers a vast landscape of human experience while enfolding a search for origins: a grandson tries to make sense of his Polish grandfather’s past and the story behind his numbered tattoo; a Serbian classical pianist longs for his forbidden heritage; a Mayan poet is torn between his studies and filial obligations; a striking young Israeli woman seeks answers in Central America; a university professor yearns for knowledge that he can’t find in books and discovers something unexpected at a Mark Twain conference. Drawn to what lies beyond the range of reason, they all reach for the beautiful and fleeting, whether through humor, music, poetry, or unspoken words. Across his encounters with each of them, the narrator—a Guatemalan literature professor and writer named Eduardo Halfon—pursues his most enigmatic subject: himself.”


I look for books from different countries of origin and every year I find that I’m lacking in Latin American books.  I also am always on the lookout for books about Poland.  I was thrilled and intrigued when I found a book by a Guatemalan author that referenced Poland.

This books is a series of interconnected stories.  Like all short story collections, I felt like there was something that I was missing as I was reading this book.  Short stories feel like there is a level of symbolism or intent just under the surface that leaves the reader feeling like they missed something important.

Distant

A college professor in Guatemala starts his introductory literature class on short stories.  He doesn’t like his students because they don’t care about literature.  Then he realizes that there is one student who does care.  When that student drops out a few weeks later, he travels to his home in the country to find out why.

This story has little aside in it when a student named Ligia asks why all the writers were male.

“There are also no black writers, Ligia, or Asian writers, or midget writers, and as far as I’m aware, there’s only one gay writer.  I told her that my courses were politically incorrect, thank God.  In other words, Ligia, they’re honest.  Just like art.  Great short story writers, period.”

So, in other words, my habit of specifically looking for books outside of my English-speaking American existence which led me to find this book, is stupid.

Twaining

He goes to a seminar on Mark Twain where a real Mark Twain scholar makes fun of them all for overthinking.

Epistrophy

He meets a Serbian pianist performing in Guatemala.  The pianist is part Gypsy and admits that he’d rather be playing Gypsy music.

White Smoke

He meets an Israeli tourist in a bar.  He admits that he is Jewish.

The Polish Boxer

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How did his grandfather survive the camps?

Postcards

He gets postcards from around the world from the Serbian pianist explaining Gypsy music until he suddenly disappears.

Ghosts

He decides to go hunting for the pianist.

The Pirouette

He is in Serbia hunting for the pianist and trying to find out what does it mean when a Gypsy does a pirouette?

A Speech at Povoa

He needs to write a speech on literature tearing reality.

Sunsets

His grandfather dies and he finds out that maybe everything he thought he knew was a lie.


Did I like this book?  I’m not sure.  The writing was beautiful and could draw you in.  The stories had some interesting moments.  I liked The Polish Boxer and Postcards best.  The Pirouette bored me out of my mind.

This book would be good for people interested in Latin American literature who enjoy lyrical writing.

26 Aug, 2016

The Governess Affair

/ posted in: Reading The Governess Affair The Governess Affair by Courtney Milan
on April 21st 2012
Pages: 100
Genres: Fiction, Romance, Historical, General, Victorian, Regency
Published by Courtney Milan
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: England
Goodreads

“Hugo Marshall earned the nickname “the Wolf of Clermont” for his ruthless ambition–a characteristic that has served him well, elevating the coal miner’s son to the right hand man of a duke. When he’s ordered to get rid of a pestering governess by fair means or foul, it’s just another day at work.
But after everything Miss Serena Barton has been through at the hands of his employer, she is determined to make him pay. She won’t let anyone stop her–not even the man that all of London fears. They might call Hugo Marshall the Wolf of Clermont, but even wolves can be brought to heel…”


I’m a huge fan of Courtney Milan’s novels.  I love Regency Romances and hers are exceptional.  They are smart and funny.  I can even handle the sex because the descriptions aren’t cringe-inducing.  While I was reading this I noticed that I was smiling, which is about the best recommendation I think I can give a book.

This novella is a prequel to her Brothers Sinister series.  You don’t have to read this series in order.  Each book stands on its own.  Characters from other books may show up as secondary characters in the next book but you don’t need to have read the previous one to understand what is going on.

This story is currently free for Kindle (on the day this review is published) if you want to try out her writing.  Fair warning though you might get hooked and need to read the rest of the series.

5bunny

About Courtney Milan

“C ourtney Milan’s debut novel was published in 2010. Since then, her books have received starred reviews in Publishers Weekly and Booklist. She’s been a New York Times and a USA Today Bestseller, a RITA® finalist and an RT Reviewer’s Choice nominee for Best First Historical Romance. Her second book was chosen as a Publishers Weekly Best Book of 2010.

Courtney lives in the Rocky Mountains with her husband, a marginally-trained dog, and an attack cat.

Before she started writing historical romance, Courtney got a graduate degree in theoretical physical chemistry from UC Berkeley. After that, just to shake things up, she went to law school at the University of Michigan and graduated summa cum laude. Then she did a handful of clerkships with some really important people who are way too dignified to be named here. She was a law professor for a while. She now writes full-time.” from her website

24 Aug, 2016

Painted Hands

/ posted in: Reading Painted Hands Painted Hands: A Novel by Jennifer Zobair
on June 11th 2013
Pages: 336
Genres: Fiction
Published by Thomas Dunne Books
Format: Hardcover
Source: Owned
Buy on Amazon (affiliate link)
Setting: Massachusetts
Goodreads

“Muslim bad girl Zainab Mir has just landed a job working for a post-feminist, Republican Senate candidate. Her best friend Amra Abbas is about to make partner at a top Boston law firm. Together they’ve thwarted proposal-slinging aunties, cultural expectations, and the occasional bigot to succeed in their careers. What they didn’t count on? Unlikely men and geopolitical firestorms.”


Zainab is getting a lot of attention as the very stylish spokeswoman for a candidate known for speaking her mind without checking with her advisors first.  This makes her a perfect target for a rising star in conservative talk radio.  A Republican’s advisor is Muslim?  Chase Holland doesn’t even have to think hard to turn his audience’s outrage on.  He doesn’t count on liking Zainab when he meets her though.

Amra works long hours to secure her promised partnership at a law firm.  When her family surprises her with a reintroduction to a family friend’s son, she is outraged.  However they hit it off.  She hides her workaholic tendencies from him and this leads to difficulties as the relationship gets serious.

This book also features Hayden, a white woman who converts to Islam and is convinced that the South Asian Muslim women she knows aren’t following the religion correctly.  She is influenced by a very conservative Muslim woman and enters into an arranged marriage with that woman’s son.  The author is a convert too so it is interesting to get that perspective.

An attempted terrorist attack brings these women’s carefully balanced lives to the brink of chaos.  Zainab is feeling the political pressure of being forced to apologize for something she had nothing to do with.  Amra’s conflicted desires for her job and her family lead her to the breaking point.  Hayden realizes that she may have been lead astray by those who she has been modeling her new life on.

4bunny

 

21 Jul, 2016

The Hindi-Bindi Club

/ posted in: Reading The Hindi-Bindi Club The Hindi-Bindi Club by Monica Pradhan
on May 1st 2007
Pages: 431
Genres: Fiction
Published by Bantam
Format: Paperback
Source: Library
Goodreads

For decades they have remained close, sharing treasured recipes, honored customs, and the challenges of women shaped by ancient ways yet living modern lives. They are the Hindi-Bindi Club, a nickname given by their American daughters to the mothers who left India to start anew—daughters now grown and facing struggles of their own.


The Hindi-Bindi Club

Meenal

Survived breast cancer this year and has found that this experience has opened her mind to things that she would have rejected in the past

Saroj

Had to flee her beloved hometown of Lahore as a child during Partition.  Now is considering traveling back to Lahore to find the childhood friends left behind.

Uma

Disowned by her father after marrying an Irish man, she wants to translate her late mother’s poetry from Bengali to English if she can get her relatives to give her access to the journals

The Daughters

Kiran

Meenal’s daughter disappointed her family by marrying a man they disapproved of and then getting a divorce.  Now, 5 years later, she is considering a semi-arranged marriage.

Preity

Saroj’s daughter was always the perfect one but she’s haunted by a romance that her mother put a stop to because the man was Muslim.

Rani

Uma’s daughter left her prestigious job to be an artist.  Now she isn’t sure that she made the right choice.


The women would have never been friends if they hadn’t ended up in the same university when they came to the U.S. and then all moved to the outskirts of Washington D.C. Their daughters were never friends despite being thrown together all the time. Each of them is now struggling with major life decisions and finds that they need each other.

I expected this book to be much lighter than it was. There are some serious issues here but there are also funny moments.

There are some amazing sounding recipes here. I want to try the rice dish. I can never get rice to taste as good as it does in Indian restaurants.

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

3flower

15 Jul, 2016

Santa Muerte

/ posted in: Reading Santa Muerte Santa Muerte (The Daniela Story #1) by Lucina Stone
on January 1st 1970
Genres: Fantasy & Magic, Fiction
Format: eARC
Source: From author/publisher
Set in New York and Mexico
Goodreads

In 2030 college student Daniela Delgado decides to kill herself.  Instead of dying though, she is dropped through time to 1923 where her pixie cut and boy clothes convince people that she is a young colored boy.  Soon she is on the run with an abused farm girl posing as an aristocrat and her male servant.

Back in 2030 Daniela’s mother fears that the only way to find her daughter is to contact her mother.  They have been estranged ever since Emma came out as a lesbian.  She also didn’t want any part in her mother’s delusions that she was a witch.  But what if she wasn’t crazy and she is the only one who can help Daniela?


This is one of the more realistic time travel books that I’ve read.  Daniela doesn’t land among rich people who will help her.  She isn’t a history scholar who can fix past events.  She’s just a girl who knows that the 1920s aren’t a good time to be mistaken for a young colored man and she needs to get out.

Things get weird when her smartphone still works.  She is able to message another smartphone user in the area.  This turns out to be another time traveler who recognizes the significance of her last name.  The Delgados are family of powerful witches.  An unprotected Delgado is an opportunity to earn a big ransom.

In the future, Emma is getting a crash course in the magic that she has rejected all her life.  Can she embrace her family legacy and not destroy her relationship with her wife?

This is the first book in a series so things aren’t tied up at the end.  I like a little more ending than we got here.  I am interested to see what comes next in the series.

3flower

14 Jul, 2016

The Marriage Bureau for Rich People

/ posted in: Reading The Marriage Bureau for Rich People The Marriage Bureau for Rich People by Farahad Zama
on June 11th 2009
Pages: 293
Genres: Fiction
Published by Putnam Adult
Format: Hardcover
Source: Library
Set in India
Goodreads

It is a universal problem. A man retires and immediately starts driving his wife crazy. What to do? Open a marriage bureau on the front veranda, of course.


Mr. Ali is was a government clerk.  Now he runs a marriage bureau.  He advertises for matches for his clients in the newspaper.  He keeps files with the special requests of people seeking spouses.  Do you need someone from the same caste?  How tall or short?  Will your wife be expected to live with her mother-in-law? Hindu, Muslim, Christian?

A photo posted by @dvmheather on

When the business takes off, he needs an assistant. Mrs. Ali finds a local woman, Aruna, to help out. She’s perfect. She’s unmarried because her family can’t afford a wedding and she is working to help the family finances.

This book is very simple on the surface. It is the stories of the people who come to the marriage bureau and the story of the Ali family. The style of writing reminds me of Alexander McCall Smith’s No.1 Ladies Detective Agency.

This book is very good at providing a look at the attitudes towards arranged marriages in India in different religious groups. What happens if people want to work out their own marriage? How do the Muslim and Hindu neighbors interact?

If you want a book that immerses you in a slice of life in an Indian coastal town, this is a good read.

3flower

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