Six Degrees of Separation, the romance edition

Welcome to #6degrees. I haven’t done one of these memes in a year!. On the first Saturday of every month, a book is chosen as a starting point and linked to six other books to form a chain. Readers and bloggers are invited to join in by creating their own ‘chain’ leading from the selected book. I mostly use this meme to work on my backlog, aka reviews that I haven‘t yet posted to my blog here. Or to give myself a reminder of the books on my TBR pile or want-to-read-shelf.

So, as usual, this month starts the chain link with a book I haven‘t read or ever heard about.

Beach Read
by Emily Henry

They’re both broke.
They’ve got crippling writer’s block.
They need to write bestsellers before the end of the summer.

The result? A bet to see who can get their book published first.
The catch? They have to swap genres.
The risk? In telling each other’s stories, their worlds might be changed entirely…

From the book blurb

It sounds mildly interesting. When I pick romcoms, which I very occasionally do, it usually involves marriage-of-convenience or some other fake-relationship thing. Or sourdough or… It‘s a mood thing. For example something like this:

Link #1 — The Love Hypothesis
by Ali Hazelwood

So, like any self-respecting biologist, Olive panics and kisses the first man she sees.

That man is none other than Adam Carlsen, a young hotshot professor–and well-known ass. Which is why Olive is positively floored when Stanford’s reigning lab tyrant agrees to keep her charade a secret and be her fake boyfriend. 

From the book blurb

I haven‘t actually read this one, but it sounds like the kind of romance I enjoy. Fake boyfriend takes me to a book that I definitely want to read at some point. Some of my reading buddies liked it:

Link #2 — Boyfriend Material (London Calling, #1)
by Alexis Hall

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

From the book blurb

Right down my alley! Links # 3, 4 and 5 are three other LGBTQ+ romcoms that I did actually read:

Conventionally Yours (True Colors, #1)
by Annabeth Albert

When two “big name fans” go head-to-head at a convention, love isn’t the only thing at stake.

I read this in November 2020. It was a Netgalley. I gave this New Adult enemies-to-lovers M/M romance the benefit of the doubt, rounding it up to three stars. It was ok. Full review is here.

One Last Stop
by Casey McQuiston

All hard edges with a soft smile and swoopy hair and saving August’s day when she needed it most. The person August looks forward to seeing on the train every day. The one who makes her forget about the cities she lived in that never seemed to fit, and her fear of what happens when she finally graduates, and even her cold-case obsessed mother who won’t quite let her go. And when August realizes her subway crush is impossible in more ways than one—namely, displaced in time from the 1970s—she thinks maybe it’s time to start believing.

This one I read in the summer of 2021. Or rather, I attempted to read… The blurb reminded me of Kate & Leopold, the movie that put Hugh Jackman on my radar as an actor. After reading the first three chapters, I put the book away. Not bad, but I couldn‘t work up much interest. August (Kate) mets Jane (Leopold) in the subway and eventually realizes that something fishy is going on, namely that Jane is from the 1970s. Nice idea, I just wasn’t feeling it. DNF at 19% and 70-odd pages. It was probably me.

Red, White & Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston

Same author, read in January 2020 (my review) and much better. I really liked this one. It was a lot of fun.

First Son Alex Claremont-Diaz is the closest thing to a prince this side of the Atlantic. With his intrepid sister and the Veep’s genius granddaughter, they’re the White House Trio, a beautiful millennial marketing strategy for his mother, President Ellen Claremont. International socialite duties do have downsides—namely, when photos of a confrontation with his longtime nemesis Prince Henry at a royal wedding leak to the tabloids and threaten American/British relations. The plan for damage control: staging a fake friendship between the First Son and the Prince. 

From the book blurb

That leaves me with Link #6… four of the above book have been with LGBTQIA couples. So I can‘t possibly leave out this big hit from last year — printed as well as the Netflix adaptation for the little screen. I have neither read or watched it yet though, so no idea if it is as good as everybody says. Too YA for my taste.

Heartstopper: Volume One (Heartstopper, #1)
by Alice Oseman

Charlie, a highly-strung, openly gay over-thinker, and Nick, a cheerful, soft-hearted rugby player, meet at a British all-boys grammar school. Friendship blooms quickly, but could there be something more…?

Charlie Spring is in Year 10 at Truham Grammar School for Boys. The past year hasn’t been too great, but at least he’s not being bullied anymore. Nick Nelson is in Year 11 and on the school rugby team. He’s heard a little about Charlie – the kid who was outed last year and bullied for a few months – but he’s never had the opportunity to talk to him.

They quickly become friends, and soon Charlie is falling hard for Nick, even though he doesn’t think he has a chance. But love works in surprising ways, and sometimes good things are waiting just around the corner…

This is a comic, btw… maybe I will pick it up at my local bookshop after all one of these days…

Anarchists meet demons

The Lamb Will Slaughter the Lion (Danielle Cain #1)
by Margaret Killjoy

So, the title has a lamb and a lion and the cover has a deer. What‘s up with that, you ask? I had no idea, but the cover reminded me of The Only Good Indians (my review).

Highlights of the book blurb: “… a queer punk rock traveller, … best friend’s mysterious and sudden suicide, … utopian town of Freedom, Iowa. … town’s residents summoned a protector spirit to serve as their judge and executioner. … a blood-red, three-antlered deer—turn on its summoners. … save the town—or get out alive.“

Ok, then… I liked the story, although the supernatural element was not explored much. There is the summoned deer, the zombie animals and mentioning of some magic, but not much introspection into any of them. The creepiness was there, but it was pretty bloodless. Some poetry.

In terms of world building I got more out of the representation of the squatters and anarchists. I am not sure if this story truly knew what it wanted to be about. However, I would probably pick up the sequel, if it came my way.

3.5 heartless birds, rounded down for now. 

Locus Award Nominee for Best Novella (2018), Shirley Jackson Award Nominee for Best Novella (2018)

Queer Crime Noir with demons and magic

Even Though I Knew the End
by C.L. Polk (Author), January LaVoy (Narrator)

Rating: 4.5 out of 5.

A magical detective dives into the affairs of Chicago’s divine monsters to secure a future with the love of her life. This sapphic period piece will dazzle anyone looking for mystery, intrigue, romance, magic, or all of the above.

https://clpolk.com/my-fiction/

Think Crime Noir à la Dashiell Hammett and add some demons, angels and a sapphic romance. Throw in a murder in a dark alley and a disgraced private eye with shady connections. Stir and voilà! One queer Gumshoe with a dash of magic coming right up.

I picked this up, because I read Witchmark (my review here) by Polk and liked it. Not enough to continue with the sequel—the setting didn‘t interest me—but enough to pick up this short Crime Noir offering.

Took me a while to unterstand the meaning of the title. Pretty obvious, once the coin drops. Potential for a sequel and a spin-off! I would read them…

Good audiobook narration by January LaVoy.

I received an advanced audiobook copy of this book from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review. Thank you!

Let’s give ’em something to talk about…

Something to Talk About
by Meryl Wilsner

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Hollywood powerhouse Jo is photographed making her assistant Emma laugh on the red carpet, and just like that, the tabloids declare them a couple. The so-called scandal couldn’t come at a worse time – threatening Emma’s promotion and Jo’s new movie.

I picked up this book a year ago, probably triggered by the Bonnie Raitt title. I love that song! And then there is the accidental relationship and a pretty cover. Sold. Pity it took me so long to read this, because it means I missed the Netgalley of Wilsner‘s next book as well. 

Believable story and characters, well developed side characters, fun story. A little extra with a me-too subplot in the middle. Blessed absence of unnecessary silliness. I would have liked to see more of Emma‘s family and would have loved a „meet the parents“ scene.

The drama between Jo and Emma in the second half took the fun out of it all just a little bit, hence only 4 stars instead of 5. I am getting a little tired of romance drama due to people not talking to each other like adults.

Bottomline, solid contemporary LGBTQ+ romance novel with a nice amount of humor. I would definitely pick up something else by the author. Recommended.

I really want potato pancakes now.

People are talking, talking ’bout people
I hear them whisper, you won’t believe it
They think we’re lovers kept under cover
I’ll just ignore it, but they keep saying
We laugh just a little too loud
Stand just a little too close
We stare just a little too long
Maybe they’re seeing something we don’t, darlin’

Lyrics of Bonnie Raitt‘s song

The pursuit of meaning and comfort

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (Monk & Robot, #1)
by Becky Chambers

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Sibling Dex, a monk, searches for a new vocation and finds it in becoming a tea monk, caring for others. One day, when this somehow isn‘t enough anymore for Dex, they take off into the wilderness, where they meet Mosscap, a robot. Mosscap wants to find out what people need and more importantly, what Dex needs. They both go on a road trip of self-discovery, looking for meaning in life and comfort. A little philosphical, inspiring, relaxing.

This is the perfect novella for a slow day on the sofa with a mug of tea. I definitely felt that hug: Sending a Hug Into the World: A Conversation with Becky Chambers (podcast, 6 minutes of ads first)

“You keep asking why your work is not enough, and I don’t know how to answer that, because it is enough to exist in the world and marvel at it. You don’t need to justify that, or earn it. You are allowed to just live.” 

Becky Chambers, A Psalm for the Wild-Built

Followed by A Prayer for the Crown-Shy (Monk & Robot, #2). I am pretty sure that I will read this at some point.

During the first chapter Sibling Dex reminded me very much of the Cleric Chih. I know, Dex came first. But I only met them now. Who is this Cleric Chih you ask?

Candy Canes and Pine Cones and Epic and Awesome

Wolfsong (Green Creek #1)
by T.J. Klune

Rating: 5 out of 5.

Oh, this was so pretty. Feel good story, some drama, some action, some love, a witch and some werewolves. Lots of dialogue and inner monologue that made me feel good. What a joy to read. What a great take on werewolves and found family. Ok, yes, also some violence, cruelty, blood, murder…. It is a story with werewolves after all. And some really bad guys.

“And it was true. I was not cursed with an overabundance of brains.“

The plot was almost irrelevant, it was the relationships and the development that Ox went through that made the book for me. Such a lovable character…

The book has a nice amount of my type of humour. Definitely for mature readers though, there is plenty of swearing and some graphic sex.

I was not a massive fan of adult Joe or the romance between Ox and adult Joe. It was not bad, but for me it was the only weak part of the book. Still 5 stars though, because I had a stupid grin on my face the whole time I read this. I had a hard time putting this down for any length of time.

“Mom! Mom. You have to smell him! It’s like… like… I don’t even know what it’s like! I was walking in the woods to scope out our territory so I could be like Dad and then it was like… whoa. And then he was all standing there and he didn’t see me at first because I’m getting so good at hunting. I was all like rawr and grr but then I smelled it again and it was him and it was all kaboom! I don’t even know! I don’t even know! You gotta smell him and then tell me why it’s all candy canes and pinecones and epic and awesome.” 

My two previous reads by the author are How to Be a Normal Person and Tell Me It‘s Real. I still have to get to his more recent and famous offerings.

Riverland stories

Into the Riverlands (The Singing Hills Cycle, #3)
by Nghi Vo 

The third novella in the Singing Hills Cycle. By now the cleric Chih has become a good friend. And Almost Brilliant, who had been missing in the 2nd novella, is back as well. They join an older couple and two young women on their treck through the riverlands. On the road they tell each other stories about the past, about emperors, fighters and bandits. Reaching their destination is a culmination of those stories.

This is probably my favourite of the Singing Hills Cycle novellas. Although I am pretty sure I missed some of the things the author was trying to tell me. I loved all of the major characters and the hinted-at relationships. I also appreciated the discourse into how stories are told, should be told and what points of view can turn them into.

I received an advanced copy of this novella from the publisher or author through NetGalley. All opinions are my own and I was not required to give a positive review.

Simulations, dark secrets, nanites, loss and hope

The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six 

I will update this anthology as I go along…

– SALVAGE by Andy Dudak
Humans have spread across many planets. Their observation of the universe endangered its existence. I know too little of quantum physics to understand the logic behind this concept. Anyway, aliens appeared and turned humans into statues, to prevent them from destroying the universe. Inside of these statues humans still live their simulated lives. Our MC is one of the few humans that have survived this event. She goes around and interacts with these statues to give them a choice—continue the simulation, move to a different, more pleasing simulation or end their existence. This could have been the content of the story, but our MC is stopped by other humans, as what she does is apparently not quite legal and the story goes on another quite different tangent from there. I struggled. It took me unusually long to finish this story and it didn‘t really satisfy me. The MC has a dark secret herself, which is hinted at, but not resolved in a meaningful way. The main issue is probably that I didn‘t really get the point of this story.

– THE LONG TAIL by Aliette de Bodard
“A story about memory and war and transfers of memories between shifts (and statistics!).“
After a war involving nanites, salvaging a wreck and looking for a cure. Short, but able to engage me and to emphasize with the main character. ★★★★☆

Can be read for free here.

Thanks to NetGalley I have The Red Scholar’s Wake by Aliette de Bodard on my TBR pile.

Xích Si: bot maker, data analyst, mother, scavenger. But those days are over now-her ship has just been captured by the Red Banner pirate fleet, famous for their double-dealing and cruelty. Xích Si expects to be tortured to death-only for the pirates’ enigmatic leader, Rice Fish, to arrive with a different and shocking proposition: an arranged marriage between Xích Si and herself.

Blurb of The Red Scholar’s Wake

Arranged marriage, one of my favourite romance tropes… Looking forward to this one! I liked what I have read by Bodard until now.

Unrest in the countryside

Sword Dance (Sword Dance, #1)
by A.J. Demas

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Interesting world. Names sound Greek, the architecture sounds a little more Roman. And the far away land of Zash reminds me a bit of Persia, maybe the hanging gardens of Babylon made an indirect appearance?

Damiskos, the main character, is a likeable fellow. Former soldier, not a terribly exciting job, gets sent to the countryside to make a deal about buying fish sauce for the troops. Fishy things start to happen, not just sauce-related. 

“Terza’s head, what a lot of ghastly people Nione seemed to have gathered around herself. Did he really have to stay out the week?“

Apparently he did. If Agatha Christie had ever written Fantasy, this is probably what it would have looked like. The requisite body might or might not have turned up. Damiskos gets support from unexpected quarters and has to pretend to be romantically inclined to towards the sword-dancing eunuch. Things do not go as planned. Do they ever?

Thrown in were some rather odd philosophers, some violence, a little not too graphic sex and various shenanigans. I liked the underhanded humour. Oh yes, and there were some serious topics woven into the narrative, about gender identity, equal rights, racism, power over and perception of others—nicely done.

This is not quick, the pace is rather sedate. Damiskos and the story take their time. It is well plotted though.

The world has potential for some more sweeping stories and there are two more books in this series. Recommended, if you are looking for a relaxed mystery with some action, light humour and a little m/m romance.

„… a dizzying week of intrigue, assassinations, and a fake love affair that—maybe—turned real.“

August Wrap-Up

August 2022: …stop it for a moment… August already, goodness me, wasn‘t it just January?

Ship of Magic (Liveship Traders #1) ★★★★★ paper, I unexpectedly really liked this. Took me 4 weeks to read it, but the characters and the world really came to life! Enjoying the sequel so far. Seamless continuation.
– Soul Taken (Mercy Thompson #13) ★★★★¾ ebook, entertaining brain candy with werewolves, vampires and fae. Maybe getting a little tired now, Ms Briggs?
– Inheritor (Foreigner #3) ★★★★☆ Audio, my second try and this time I had fun. Yay!
Precursor (Foreigner #4) ★★★★½ audio, Atevi in space! Even better!
When the Tiger Came Down the Mountain (Singing Hills #2) ★★★★☆ ebook, our cleric Chih has to narrate themself out of a prickly situation with three tigers.
– The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, The Adventure of the Engineer‘s Thumb / The Adventure of the Noble Bachelor ★★★☆☆

Ongoing short story anthology The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume Six: 
– TEXTBOOKS IN THE ATTIC by S.B. Divya — climate change has flooded towns, antibiotics are rare for those less privileged. A mother searches for a way to save her son. ★★★★★ More on tor.com: https://www.tor.com/author/s-b-divya/
– SEEDING THE MOUNTAIN by M. L. Clark — I am definitely not a fan of sentences running pages long, stuffed full of superfluous adverbs and adjectives. Hard pass. ★☆☆☆☆
– KNOCK, KNOCK SAID THE SHIP by Rati Mehrotra — Deenu works on a trading ship with a slightly disturbed AI. When the ship is attacked, she has to decide where her loyalties lie. ★★★★★
– STILL YOU LINGER, LIKE SOOT IN THE AIR by Matthew Kressel — Gil is a priest of Muu, a alien intelligence, who has „abilities that seem to defy known physical laws of nature.” In other words, Muu is a god. Gil lost his pupil and lover and struggles to come to terms with his loss and his entrapment by Muu. ★★★★☆ Can be read for free here: https://www.lightspeedmagazine.com/fi…

Comics:
– All Out War Part 2 ★★★★☆ The Walking Dead 21, eComic, StoryGraph #1 October
– The Walking Dead: All Out War AP Edition ★★★★☆ Done in raw pencils, without the ink. I like it a lot, it shows the artist‘s skill much better.
– Redlands Vol. 1, eComic, DNF after the first 2 issues (54 pages). Witches take over a town of misogynistic racists. Didn‘t like it.

Currently reading:
– The Mad Ship (Liveship Traders #2), ebook. Going slowly, as I keep reading shorter stuff in between. This will take me most of September for sure.

Ongoing:
The Tale of the Body Thief (Vampire Chronicles #4), paper, on hold, not enjoying it.
– How the Earth Works, audio, it‘s so-so. Sometimes very good, then again a bit slow and drawn out. It‘s lectures though, not a coherent book, which might be the problem.
– Sherlock Holmes: The Definitive Audio Collection, narrated by Stephen Fry: #3) The Adventures of Sherlock Holmes, the rest. Long book is long.

Specfic Movies & TV watched:
– For All Mankind, S3, Eps. 4-10, completed ★★★★★ Mars!
– The Sea Beast, animation ★★★★★ Excellent swashbuckling adventure with sea monsters. So much fun!
– Prey (Predator) ★★★★☆ 
– The Sandman, S1, Eps 1-5 ★★★☆☆ I massively disliked episode 5, not sure I‘ll continue. Not really my cup of tea.
– Morbius ★★★☆☆ No big surprises, pretty predictable. Made me discover Leto’s band 30 Seconds to Mars though, which I love.
– Westworld, S1 ★★★★☆ Slow start, but developed nicely. Might continue, if I can get S2 at a reduced price.
– She-Hulk, Attorney at Law, S1, Eps 1+2, ongoing. Fun so far.