I’m going to go out to do some shopping today. Mostly, all I’ve got left to worry about is stockings, but they sure don’t stuff themselves, do they?
Yesterday I listed some awesome gay books I bumped into this year, and today I’m gonna focus on some of the lady folk I’ve loved this year. So, if you’re looking for some great present ideas, I hope to have some for you…
Binti, by Nnedi Okorafor
I listened to this one unabridged from Audible over the course of a couple of days, and the performer was freaking brilliant. Every vocalization was so immersive and engrossing, every character of the small cast so distinct. Wow. So, if you’re an audiobook fan, don’t worry about the performance. Truly.
Prose-wise, this was so solid. A great SF tale through lenses you don’t encounter often in the mainstream, I can see why this blew away so many readers, and I count myself among them. The ideas in play of home as healing, as well as liberation and tradition and so many other pieces just click on so many levels.
Narratively, the set-up is deceptively simple (as is often the case in novellas): a woman from a very insular culture sneaks out in the dead of night to accept a position at a multi-species university on another planet. Mid-way to her destination, an alien attack occurs, and she finds herself in the unique position of being so many firsts to these aliens: the first human to offer a resistance to them, the first human to understand them, the first human to offer an option that is not violence.
So engaging. So happy to have read it, and so looking forward to the next instalment.
How Sweet it Is, by Melissa Brayden
My quest to grab every Melissa Brayden audiobook continues, and How Sweet It Is was a complete gem.
First, I have to say Brayden hasn’t hit a rough spot yet with narrators, always seemed to grab top-notch voice performers, rather than readers, who really put effort and character into each word. So if the reader is a big deal to you, worry not. This audiobook has that covered.
Second, the story itself. Oh, man. So, we’ve got two women in the middle of rough patches in their life. There’s Molly, a woman who runs her family bakery is trying very hard to keep the business afloat, while keeping the financial stresses and the dire reality to herself. Her in-laws are brilliant and could probably help, but Molly’s a bit too proud to ask them, and since her wife died, although her in-laws are wonderful family, they’re also a painful reminder of the woman that she loved who was taken from her suddenly and far too soon.
Jordan is the younger sister of Molly’s deceased wife, and Molly and Jordan have always gotten along—though that’s not the case between Jordan and the rest of Jordan’s family. The family has a history of going into medicine. Jordan is a mover and shaker in the film industry, but that doesn’t hold a lot of weight in the eyes of her family. That Molly is one of her few champions—and also a high school crush of hers—goes a long way when the two reunite. Jordan is home while something blows over, and the two reconnect.
And find something else. Something that sparks, and crackles, and might be worth risking more for.
There’s so much against them here: how Jordan’s family might react, the reality Molly is facing with her business, that Jordan’s life and career is elsewhere, and the memory of the older sister who is always going to be an impossible standard for Jordan to live up to, and maybe something Molly’s heart is unwilling to let go.
Brayden’s usual wit is on display here, too, with some great one-liners and laughs amid what is otherwise often a really bittersweet story of two women falling for each other during a time in their lives that could not likely be worse. Keep a handkerchief handy, as there’s more than a couple of sucker-punches for those readers who bawl at some family-themed “proud of you” moments.
Miss Match, by Fiona Riley
When I travel, I generally spend my time reading. It makes the beastly reality of air travel somewhat tolerable if you can find a good story to sink into, and sometimes, an hour or two of reading even seems to go by quicker than it really is.
When I started Miss Match, I was just taking my seat on my flight home from the Saints & Sinners Literary Festival and thus in a funk. It’s always hard to say goodbye to a wonderful gathering of queer authors and the sense of community that creates. At that conference, I got to meet Fiona, and so I cued up the book…
…and then we were landing in D.C. I was actively annoyed that I had to put my kobo away for a few moments while I deplaned and got myself to my next gate, and I dove right back in as soon as I was sitting. I finished the book mid-way between D.C. and home, and had a huge smile on my face.
Miss Match is immersive, rich, and downright engrossing. The narrative set-up is this: Samantha, a woman who runs a rather elite matchmaking service, has been recently burned and despite being an incredibly observant and talented matchmaker, she’s lost all confidence in her own ability to ever find someone for herself (and certainly no longer trusts her own judgement on the matter). Lucinda is a former dancer nursing a life very much built on loneliness and losses, who has recently come into a new position at a major PR firm—coincidentally the same firm that made sure fallout from Samantha’s woes didn’t affect her business. Fate brings them to the wedding of a couple where both women both have ties, and there’s a spark.
But can a spark be enough in the face of hardened hearts, betrayals, and the pain of loss?
Riley brings both women to such emotional life that I had zero trouble sinking beneath their skin, moved by their plight. Add to this a definite flare for the erotic, and there are pages that scorch hot. Riley also surrounds both women with a full range of supporting (though sometimes not-so-supportive) characters that live and breathe for the reader. Boston itself often feels like a character, too. Major bonus points from me as well with bi visibility, and a cast of characters with a wide range of backgrounds and cultures.
Fans of Melissa Brayden‘s Soho series should definitely take a glance here.
The Princess Affair, by Nell Stark
Another audiobook (you’ll notice a theme today) I listened to while walking the dog, this book is romantic escapism at its best: a fictional version of the royal blood line of England includes Princess Sasha—or “Sassy Sasha” as she’s known to the tabloids. When Rhodes Scholar Kerry Donovan comes to the UK to study, a chance encounter becomes a spark that both try very hard to resist for equally valid reasons: Kerry, because she absolutely doesn’t want to live in the closet (or, for that matter, in full view of the entire British population), and Sasha because coming out would be a massive step in the face of the scrutiny she faces.
But the heart wants what the heart wants, and when a tragedy forces the two to truly examine what they feel, things begin to spin a bit out of the carefully controlled balance they’ve been trying to maintain.
Added to this, I have to note that Stark has a real knack for adding the perfect dashes of realism into her romances, no matter how over-the-top the scenario appears at first glance. The misogyny, double-standards of public scrutiny, academia… The world is not one of rainbows and glitter, and it makes the successes of these women all the more sweet.
(This is also a double-recommendation, as the next in the series, The Princess and the Prix, was also awesome.)
Soul to Keep, by Rebekah Weatherspoon
Rebekah Weatherspoon is on my “immediate buy” list. This is just one of many of her books and novellas I’ve loved, so search the whole ‘Spoon catalogue, okay?
First off, if you haven’t read the whole Vampire Sorority Sisters series before, allow me to suggest you grab ’em all. While the books definitely stand alone with their own internal narratives, there’s a larger story at play that also moves along, and it’s always best to start at the beginning to get the world-building down pat.
And the world is freaking built. Seriously. Rebekah Weatherspoon ties Christian Baines with my favourite re-imagining of vampires, and the whole culture, network, and world Weatherspoon brings to life—uh, undeath—in her stories is flipping brilliant.
Add to that the super-hot smexy bits and you’re in for a great ride.
In this particular volume, we get to visit Jill (previously seen as not much more than a brat and a snob and driven by order and a high need to accomplish all the things) and Tokyo (a vampire with a penchant for recklessness), and spins one of the best relationship-start seeds I’ve read.
Jill, in a med program, wants to put together a sexual health curriculum offering that will truly change (and be truly representative of) the campus. When a comment from Tokyo makes Jill realize she’s missing some practical notions of what relationships are all about, the two embark on a secret (and shapeshifted) relationship, so Jill can fill in some gaps.
Their evolving relationship is so freaking cute, and with that edge of both realizing it’s moving from “just as an experiment” to something neither of them expected (and didn’t really want). There’s also a thread explored in the relationship between vampires and their feeders that I really found fascinating—whether Weatherspoon intended something that could so easily be a parallel or metaphor for an abusive relationship or not, I don’t know, but there were scenes so sharp they might as well have been vampire fangs—which I feel I should point out is not Jill and Tokyo, who are a brilliant model for a couple entering a new relationship where one of the pair has much more experience, and consent is queen.
In parallel to this relationship story, the “big bad” continues to evolve in the story running through the background of the series, and this those big bad things do more than bump in the night. I can’t wait to see where the sisters go next.
Also, massive praise for the level of diversity in so many ways: racial, sexual, cultural… I always love Weatherspoon’s characters.