Creating Conversations bookseller Maryelizabeth (M'e) reads across all of the Galaxy's genres, with an emphasis on sociological fiction. Whether a book involves werewolves, spaceships, faeries, forensics, kissing, or all of the above, her main concern is the impact of their world on the characters in it.
Japanese-American high school senior Kimi Nakamura is supposed to be spending her spring break completing paintings that will cement her continued education at the prestigious Liu art academy. What Kimi’s parents don’t know is that Kimi hasn’t painted in months, dropping her high school Advanced Fine Arts class, and hiding her lack of progress at home by asserting that she’s striving to find her artistic point of view. Following her mother’s discovery that Kimi’s off the predetermined path, Kimi takes advantage of the fortuitously-timed gift of a paid ticket to visit her largely estranged grandparents in Kyoto during the break. While in Kyoto, she has the opportunity to get to know more about her grandparents and Japanese culture and the many ways it differs from Japanese-American culture. There’s also a meet cute with a giant mochi mascot, tons of description of delicious food, and a strong supportive girl gang – because this is a Sarah Kuhn novel, after all. A great summertime romance!
The life of Stella Fortuna, née Mariastella Fortuna the Second, is told into sections titled with the nature of her near-death experiences: Burns; Evisceration; Bludgeoning; Rape; Exsanguination; Choking; Cerebral Hemorrhage. Stella’s life story, from her birth in the Calabrese region of Italy in 1920 to her life as a grandmother in contemporary Connecticut, is pieced together by her granddaughter. Stella’s story is simultaneously her own, and that of Everywoman, especially those who immigrated to the United States in the mid-20th Century. Grames’ looping narrative provides readers with the sensation of shared family stories and secrets – even when, to quote Stella’s sister, Tina, “some parts of the story, they no nice.” Engaging and enthralling. Narrator Lisa Flanagan does a stellar job of sharing Stella’s story on
HarperAudio via Libro.fm.
(Content warning: There is family violence and sexual assault in the story)
Poston’s stellar love letter to fandom continues, this time focusing on the female lead in the Starfield franchise relaunch film and one of the character’s biggest fans. Actress Jessica Stone is the opposite of lead actor Darien Freeman (romantic interest in Geekerella) – she’s no closet fan, she doesn’t “get” fandom in general. Jessica’s only interested in recreating the iconic role of Princess Amara as an acting job, one she hopes will open non-genre movie doors for her, especially following the character’s noble death at the end of the film. Superfan Imogen Lovelace is not only leading a #SaveAmara campaign, but also looks uncannily like Jessica, especially when sporting an artistic SPACE QUEEN beanie. Intrigue around the sequel’s script gives the two a reason to swap places during ExcelsiCon, leading to general con-fusion and growth opportunities for both young women. Highly recommended.
My favorite part of Quinn’s absorbing WWII espionage novel was learning about Russia’s Night Witches, female pilots who flew against the Axis powers. The story is told via multiple timelines leading up to and after the war. The point of view characters include fierce “rusalka“ Night Witch Nina Markova; her husband of convenience, British journalist turned Nazi hunter Ian Graham; and Bostonian thwarted professional photographer Jordan McBride. The suspense lies not so much in the identification of the Huntress (a Nazi responsible for Ian’s brother’s death, among others), as in the convoluted process by which Ian and his allies determine her location and new identity. Wonderfully read on audio.
Whether or not one is already a reader of Cole’s Reluctant Royals (and if you aren’t, I encourage you to explore the other titles in this charming, sexy, and fun contemporary series), this novella of re-meeting cute offers a lovely New York adventure. Likotsi, the able assistant of Prince Thabiso of Thesolo, and jewelry designer Fabiola dated briefly, but their relationship ended abruptly, even though it was anticipated to be a finite romance. Now they’ve reconnected and may have a chance at a happily ever after, if they can forgive past hurts. The promise of the stunning purple cover delivers!
This collection of nearly two dozen stories written over about 15 years by the extraordinary multiple-award winning Nora Jemisin, best known for The Broken Earth Trilogy, offers a spectacular range of subgenres, characters, and emotional tones. Unsurprisingly to anyone aware of my deep enthusiasm for competitive cooking shows, my favorite is the tale of Franca, “L’Alchimista,” tasked with creating literally magical concoctions from vague recipes that even “The Great British Baking Show” judges would deem too vague. “The Ones Who Stay and Fight,” a response to Ursula K. Le Guin’s “The Ones Who Walk Away From Omelas,” is just as emotionally invested as its inspiration, while investing in a different response to community injustices and lack of compassion. While some stories have greater resonance than others, they all offer great value, and the opportunity to be angry, wistful, thoughtful, and more. Highly recommended.
Jane Yolen chose verse to tell the story of Natasha, who runs away from her abusive home situation into the woods, where she becomes part of the Baba’s household, learning to embrace the idea of being a witch, rather than thinking it’s a pejorative, and rethinking some of the lessons the outside world tried to force upon her. Sparse thoughtful prose and evocative illustrations make this a gem of a book whose impact will last far beyond the short time needed to read it.
In this collection, subtitled "Final Poems: 2014 - 2018," Ursula K. Le Guin embraces her mastery of the form (first showcased in chapbook collection Wild Angels in 1974) to reflect on the finite span of life, the import of nature, and the delightful mystery of felines.
It’s a compliment to Lisa’s craft that Black Swan Rising reads so much like a current affairs book rather than a novel that it probably should come with a trigger warning for anyone distressed by the national political clime in recent years. Protagonists Sarah Price, who runs social media for a San Diego congressman, and local television reporter Casey Cheng, are both operating in the toxic and deadly atmosphere of MRA and white nationalist activists, and multiple active shooter incidents. The sometimes anxiety-inducing thriller components are leavened with Lisa’s loving travelogue of many of San Diego’s local eateries and breweries, both actual and fictional. An important if upsetting read for mystery and suspense readers.
Adding my enthusiasm for the top Indies Next Pick from April 2018 – in particular, for its audio incarnation via Libro.fm. Tangier in the mid-1950s is perceived as a “strange, lawless city that belonged to everyone and no one,” according to Alice Shipley, one of the two narrators. Alice and her college roommate, Lucy Mason, once intimates, have been separated for a year before Lucy follows Alice and her new husband, John McAllister, to Morocco. Tangerine deserves its frequent comparison to the suspense works of Patricia Highsmith, and the audio version, read by Barrie Kreinik and Erin Mallon, assists the reader in keeping track of the alternating first-person narration.
Inkmistress is just your standard “demigoddess with the power to alter reality by expressing how she’d like to see the world in her blood accidently catalysts her girlfriend’s transformation into a dragon, setting off deadly consequences for the inhabitants of their country fairy tale.” Asra, who has been raised in very sheltered circumstances by the local healer, must not only deal with trying to rein in Ina’s quest for vengeance, but also question her own mythological heritage, determine whether a group of assassins are allies or adversaries, and muddle through everyday interactions with other beings in a far more concentrated form than she has previously experienced. Recommended for fantasy readers who like their magical creatures interspersed with plenty of kissing.
Children of Blood and Bone, the first book in Tomi’s Legacy of Orisha young adult fantasy trilogy, introduces readers to the West Africa-reminiscent kingdom and its once common, now persecuted minority magic wielders, the divîners. Tomi interweaves the point of view of divîner Zélie Adebola, who is both eager and fearful to embrace her heritage, and fanatically anti-maji King Saran’s offspring, Princess Amari who questions the established narrative, and Crown Prince Inan, torn between fulfilling his father’s expectations and determining his own values. At times as graphically brutal as it is compelling, this stellar new fantasy will have an enduring legacy. Highly recommended.