Dread Nation by Justina Ireland

Jane McKeene was born two days before the dead began to walk the battlefields of Gettysburg and Chancellorsville—derailing the War Between the States and changing America forever. In this new nation, safety for all depends on the work of a few, and laws like the Native and Negro Reeducation Act require certain children attend combat schools to learn to put down the dead. But there are also opportunities—and Jane is studying to become an Attendant, trained in both weaponry and etiquette to protect the well-to-do. It’s a chance for a better life for Negro girls like Jane. After all, not even being the daughter of a wealthy white Southern woman could save her from society’s expectations.

But that’s not a life Jane wants. Almost finished with her education at Miss Preston’s School of Combat in Baltimore, Jane is set on returning to her Kentucky home and doesn’t pay much mind to the politics of the eastern cities, with their talk of returning America to the glory of its days before the dead rose. But when families around Baltimore County begin to go missing, Jane is caught in the middle of a conspiracy, one that finds her in a desperate fight for her life against some powerful enemies. And the restless dead, it would seem, are the least of her problems.

Why you should read it: The melding of history, alternate history, and horror elements in this book is sincerely fantastic. I'm a sucker for good world building, and for a compelling POV character, and Justina Ireland delivers both those things and an action-filled story that kicks ass. Bonus for asexual representation that I hope will continue to prove out as the series continues, but I don't want to say too much on that because spoilers. All around excellent, I loved this book.

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Undead Girl Gang by Lily Anderson

Mila Flores and her best friend Riley have always been inseparable. There's not much excitement in their small town of Cross Creek, so Mila and Riley make their own fun, devoting most of their time to Riley's favorite activity: amateur witchcraft.

So when Riley and two Fairmont Academy mean girls die under suspicious circumstances, Mila refuses to believe everyone's explanation that her BFF was involved in a suicide pact. Instead, armed with a tube of lip gloss and an ancient grimoire, Mila does the unthinkable to uncover the truth: she brings the girls back to life.

Unfortunately, Riley, June, and Dayton have no recollection of their murders, but they do have unfinished business to attend to. Now, with only seven days until the spell wears off and the girls return to their graves, Mila must wrangle the distracted group of undead teens and work fast to discover their murderer...before the killer strikes again.

Why you should read it: I went into this book based on powerful recommendations from friends, with very little idea what to expect. I knew it would be good, but reading it blew me away. I adored Mila, I thought the writing and pacing were fantastic, and the horror elements of interacting with LITERAL ZOMBIES were faced head-on. I finished reading this one faster than I've finished anything in a long time.

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Down Among the Sticks and Bones by Seanan McGuire

Jacqueline was her mother’s perfect daughter—polite and quiet, always dressed as a princess. If her mother was sometimes a little strict, it’s because crafting the perfect daughter takes discipline.

Jillian was her father’s perfect daughter—adventurous, thrill-seeking, and a bit of a tom-boy. He really would have preferred a son, but you work with what you've got.

They were five when they learned that grown-ups can’t be trusted.

They were twelve when they walked down the impossible staircase and discovered that the pretense of love can never be enough to prepare you a life filled with magic in a land filled with mad scientists and death and choices.

Why you should read it: This is the second book in Seanan McGuire's Wayward Children Series. I loved "Every Heart a Doorway" (the first installment), and while #2 had a very different tone from the first, I loved this one just as much. The sense of place is so vivid even though the place itself is strange and unfamiliar. This story evokes classic horror movies and stories without ever losing sight of the stakes for THESE PARTICULAR CHARACTERS. I enjoyed it enormously.

The Hate U Give by Angie Thomas

Sixteen-year-old Starr Carter navigates between the poverty-stricken neighborhood she has grown up in and the upper-crust suburban prep school she attends. Her life is up-ended when she is the sole witness to a police officer shooting her best friend, Khalil, who turns out to have been unarmed during the confrontation – but may or may not have been a drug dealer. As Starr finds herself even more torn between the two vastly different worlds she inhabits, she also has to contend with speaking her truth and, in the process, trying to stay alive herself.

Why you should read it: Look, there's a reason this book conquered the NYT bestseller list and then lived there for months. It's one of the most powerful stories I've ever read. An incredible main character that captured my heart, an honesty that got under my skin, a whole world of grief and rage and love and people fighting to live. Starr's family is wonderful, and every character in this book felt absolutely real. I could spend this post trying to explain the reasons everyone should read this book, and still not fit it all in. Stunning.

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A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness

The monster showed up just after midnight. As they do. But it isn’t the monster Conor’s been expecting. He’s been expecting the one from his nightmare, the one he’s had nearly every night since his mother started her treatments, the one with the darkness and the wind and the screaming… The monster in his back garden, though, this monster is something different. Something ancient, something wild. And it wants the most dangerous thing of all from Conor. It wants the truth.

Why you should read it: This was a quick read, and so full of feeling it took my breath away. An incredible study of grief. I don't want to say too much about it, but it's excellent.

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Children of Blood and Bone by Tomi Adeyemi

They killed my mother. They took our magic. They tried to bury us. Now we rise.

Why you should read it: This is another one where I don't feel like I can coherently explain all the reasons you should read this book. YOU SHOULD READ THIS BOOK. The characters are wonderful, the writing is perfect, and the world building took my breath away. The descriptions of magic are some of the best I've ever read, and I love how well the internal mechanics of it all work. The scope of the story (which is huge and expansive) never trampled the compelling character details, which is an impressive balance to maintain. I adored this book.
There's no real unifying theme to this recs post. None of these are in corresponding genres, they're just things I've read recently and thought were truly excellent. I've got a couple more recommendations to wrangle (I've been reading more as the weather gets colder, because it's tough to write during my commute when it's rainy and chilly and unpleasant out), but for now I have these to offer.

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Hamilton's Battalion by Courtney Milan, Alyssa Cole, Rose Lerner

On October 14, 1781, Alexander Hamilton led a daring assault on Yorktown's defenses and won a decisive victory in America's fight for independence. Decades later, when Eliza Hamilton collected his soldiers' stories, she discovered that while the war was won at Yorktown, the battle for love took place on many fronts...

Why you should read it: The three novellas in this collection were wonderful, and incredibly distinct. I appreciated the realistic intersection with events that interest any Hamilton musical fan, while exploring a fascinating variety of romances and characters. The concept uniting the stories is tenuous at best, but the romances all stand alone beautifully without the framework imposed on them. I think you can buy all three stories individually at this point as well. Whatever format you prefer, read for a damn good time.

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Brown Girl in the Ring by Nalo Hopkinson

The rich and privileged have fled the city, barricaded it behind roadblocks, and left it to crumble. The inner city has had to rediscover old ways--farming, barter, herb lore. But now the monied need a harvest of bodies, and so they prey upon the helpless of the streets. With nowhere to turn, a young woman must open herself to ancient truths, eternal powers, and the tragic mystery surrounding her mother and grandmother. She must bargain with gods, and give birth to new legends.

Why you should read it: I know this book is a classic, but I just read it for the first time this year. I loved the main character, I loved the bleak but vivid world building, and I absolutely adored the writing. The horror elements got under my skin in a way that was downright visceral, and I spent every page tensely wondering how it could end in anything but heartbreak. Gorgeous and horrifying and beautifully crafted.

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A Good Time for the Truth: Race in Minnesota by Sun Yung Shin

Essays that challenge, discomfort, disorient, galvanize, and inspire all of us to evolve now, for our shared future.

Why you should read it: This is an incredible collection of writings, and that summary is perfectly on the nose. The book was a tough read, because the truths it talks about aren't pleasant ones. All of the essays are good. Some of them absolutely flattened me with their honesty. I'm glad as hell I picked this one up, and I recommend it with all my heart.

Star-Crossed by Barbara Dee

Mattie is chosen to play Romeo opposite her crush in the eighth grade production of Shakespeare’s most beloved play in this Romeo and Juliet inspired novel.

Why you should read it: I don't read a whole lot of middle grade, but I saw the blurb for this one and needed it instantly. Sweet and charming and honest, it's a quick and wonderful read. Strongly recommend.

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Dreadnought by April Daniels

Until Dreadnought fell out of the sky and died right in front of her, Danny was trying to keep people from finding out she’s transgender. But before he expired, Dreadnought passed his mantle to her, and those secondhand superpowers transformed Danny’s body into what she’s always thought it should be. Now there’s no hiding that she’s a girl.

It should be the happiest time of her life, but Danny’s first weeks finally living in a body that fits her are more difficult and complicated than she could have imagined. Between her father’s dangerous obsession with “curing” her girlhood, her best friend suddenly acting like he’s entitled to date her, and her fellow superheroes arguing over her place in their ranks, Danny feels like she’s in over her head.

She doesn’t have much time to adjust. Dreadnought’s murderer—a cyborg named Utopia—still haunts the streets of New Port City, threatening destruction. If Danny can’t sort through the confusion of coming out, master her powers, and stop Utopia in time, humanity faces extinction.

Why you should read it: This is such a satisfying superhero fantasy story, and I appreciated how complex a character Danny is. She's a teenager with a lot to contend with, including a complicated (not so great) family situation. All of these elements are given the space to really have an impact on the character, and the result is a fiercely believable teenager. Dreadnought is a first book in a longer series, and book two is already out if you finish and are craving more.

[Warnings for bigotry and transphobic language among those complicated things Danny is contending with.]

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The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang

Paris, at the dawn of the modern age:
Prince Sebastian is looking for a bride―or rather, his parents are looking for one for him. Sebastian is too busy hiding his secret life from everyone. At night he puts on daring dresses and takes Paris by storm as the fabulous Lady Crystallia―the hottest fashion icon in the world capital of fashion!

Sebastian’s secret weapon (and best friend) is the brilliant dressmaker Frances―one of only two people who know the truth: sometimes this boy wears dresses. But Frances dreams of greatness, and being someone’s secret weapon means being a secret. Forever. How long can Frances defer her dreams to protect a friend?

Why you should read it: This graphic novel is indescribably lovely. Sweet characters, gorgeous art, a wonderful conclusion. It reads like a fairy tale though there's no literal magical elements in it. Just superb.
When the Moon Was ours by Anna-Marie McLemore

To everyone who knows them, best friends Miel and Sam are as strange as they are inseperable. Roses grow out of Miel's wrist, and rumors say she spilled out of a water tower when she was five. Sam is known for the moons he paints and hangs in the trees, and for how little anyone knows about his life before he and his mother moved to town.

But as odd as everyone considers Miel and Sam, even they stay away from the Bonner girls, four beautiful sisters rumored to be witches. Now they want the roses that grow from Miel's skin, and they're willing to use every secret Miel has fought to protect to make sure she gives them up.

Why you should read it: This book is strange and gorgeous and touching. The magic woven through the story makes it feel like a dream that's connected to our world but doesn't quite take place here. There's so much nuance to both that world and the characters, and an overwhelming amount of heart. I really loved the writing—language right on the edge of flowery—crafted to fit perfectly with all that magic and strangeness. A beautiful read.

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Outrun the Moon by Stacey Lee

San Francisco, 1906: Fifteen-year-old Mercy Wong is determined to break from the poverty in Chinatown, and an education at St. Clare’s School for Girls is her best hope. Although St. Clare’s is off-limits to all but the wealthiest white girls, Mercy gains admittance through a mix of cunning and a little bribery, only to discover that getting in was the easiest part. Not to be undone by a bunch of spoiled heiresses, Mercy stands strong—until disaster strikes.

On April 18, an historic earthquake rocks San Francisco, destroying Mercy’s home and school. With martial law in effect, she is forced to wait with her classmates for their families in a temporary park encampment. Mercy can’t sit by while they wait for the Army to bring help. Fires might rage, and the city may be in shambles, yet Mercy still has the ‘bossy’ cheeks that mark her as someone who gets things done. But what can one teenaged girl do to heal so many suffering in her broken city?

Why you should read it: God, the things this book did to my heart. It's an incredible piece of historical fiction, and Stacey Lee does a terrific job crafting both world and characters into something completely immersive. With all the tragedy in this story it would have been easy for the result to be bleak and gritty and crushing—and there ARE glimpses of terrible things—but there is also love and community and the very best aspirations of humanity striving to do better. All without ONCE feeling preachy or unrealistic. I absolutely adored this book.

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Labyrinth Lost by Zoraida Córdova

The only way to get her family back is to travel to a land in between, as dark as Limbo and as strange as Wonderland...

Alex is a bruja, the most powerful witch in a generation...and she hates magic.

At her Deathday celebration, Alex performs a spell to rid herself of her power. But it backfires. Her whole family vanishes into thin air, leaving her alone with Nova, a brujo boy she's not sure she can trust, but who may be Alex's only chance at saving her family.

Why you should read it: I absolutely love the characters in this book—the connections, the loyalties, the absolute heart of the story. Alex's relationship with her family is complicated and wonderful, so believable in the way it's full of both love and frustration in equal measure. Her crush on her best friend Rishi was also a high point for me; those feelings were such a lovely theme running beneath the heavier action. The world building is also excellent, and the magic beautifully portrayed. I enjoyed this enormously.
Juliet Takes a Breath by Gabby Rivera

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.

Why you should read it: Gabby Rivera's book is beautiful and sharp, and it got me RIGHT in my heart. I cried multiple times at the writing and feelings in this story. Juliet is a character who is SO EASY to get attached to and fall in love with. This isn't a romance, but it's packed so full of love my heart was bursting by the end. Strange and difficult at times—Juliet's story isn't always an easy one—but also gorgeous from start to finish.

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Binti by Nnedi Okorafor

Her name is Binti, and she is the first of the Himba people ever to be offered a place at Oomza University, the finest institution of higher learning in the galaxy. But to accept the offer will mean giving up her place in her family to travel between the stars among strangers who do not share her ways or respect her customs.

Knowledge comes at a cost, one that Binti is willing to pay, but her journey will not be easy. The world she seeks to enter has long warred with the Meduse, an alien race that has become the stuff of nightmares. Oomza University has wronged the Meduse, and Binti’s stellar travel will bring her within their deadly reach.

If Binti hopes to survive the legacy of a war not of her making, she will need both the the gifts of her people and the wisdom enshrined within the University, itself - but first she has to make it there, alive.

Why you should read it: I love science fiction that manages to balance a galactic scope with a more tangible world. Binti is beautifully written, and I loved how vivid everything was. I also adored the main character, how deeply she felt, and how important her family and history were even while she was traveling so far away from them. I'm very much looking forward to the sequel to this novella (though it definitely stands alone just fine).

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Every Heart a Doorway by Seanan McGuire

Children have always disappeared under the right conditions; slipping through the shadows under a bed or at the back of a wardrobe, tumbling down rabbit holes and into old wells, and emerging somewhere... else.

But magical lands have little need for used-up miracle children.

Nancy tumbled once, but now she’s back. The things she’s experienced... they change a person. The children under Miss West’s care understand all too well. And each of them is seeking a way back to their own fantasy world.

But Nancy’s arrival marks a change at the Home. There’s a darkness just around each corner, and when tragedy strikes, it’s up to Nancy and her new-found schoolmates to get to the heart of the matter.

No matter the cost.

Why you should read it: This was haunting and morbid, and also full of heart. I enjoyed a lot of things about this novella, most especially (and personally) the fact that the asexual main character isn’t treated like a problem to be solved. It’s a quick read, and well worth it.

Under a Painted Sky by Stacey Heather Lee

Missouri, 1849: Samantha dreams of moving back to New York to be a professional musician--not an easy thing if you're a girl, and harder still if you're Chinese. But a tragic accident dashes any hopes of fulfilling her dream, and instead, leaves her fearing for her life. With the help of a runaway slave named Annamae, Samantha flees town for the unknown frontier. But life on the Oregon Trail is unsafe for two girls, so they disguise themselves as Sammy and Andy, two boys headed for the California gold rush.

Sammy and Andy forge a powerful bond as they each search for a link to their past, and struggle to avoid any unwanted attention. But when they cross paths with a band of cowboys, the light-hearted troupe turn out to be unexpected allies. With the law closing in on them and new setbacks coming each day, the girls quickly learn that there are not many places to hide on the open trail.

Why you should read it: Everything about this book is phenomenal. The characters, the historical settings, the pace, the dialogue... So vivid and genuine. I adored every word.

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Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe by Benjamin Alire Sáenz

Aristotle is an angry teen with a brother in prison. Dante is a know-it-all who has an unusual way of looking at the world. When the two meet at the swimming pool, they seem to have nothing in common. But as the loners start spending time together, they discover that they share a special friendship—the kind that changes lives and lasts a lifetime. And it is through this friendship that Ari and Dante will learn the most important truths about themselves and the kind of people they want to be.

Why you should read it: This book is beautifully written and painfully poignant. I felt deeply for these characters, two boys growing up and struggling to figure out who they are. I especially loved the ways their families fit together, and the close but complicated relationships between both young men and their loving parents. I don't want to give any spoilers, but I will say I found the ending deeply satisfying. An incredible read.

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More Happy Than Not by Adam Silvera

In the months after his father's suicide, it's been tough for 16-year-old Aaron Soto to find happiness again--but he's still gunning for it. With the support of his girlfriend Genevieve and his overworked mom, he's slowly remembering what that might feel like. But grief and the smile-shaped scar on his wrist prevent him from forgetting completely.

When Genevieve leaves for a couple of weeks, Aaron spends all his time hanging out with this new guy, Thomas. Aaron's crew notices, and they're not exactly thrilled. But Aaron can't deny the happiness Thomas brings or how Thomas makes him feel safe from himself, despite the tensions their friendship is stirring with his girlfriend and friends. Since Aaron can't stay away from Thomas or turn off his newfound feelings for him, he considers turning to the Leteo Institute's revolutionary memory-alteration procedure to straighten himself out, even if it means forgetting who he truly is.

Why does happiness have to be so hard?

Why you should read it: Wow. WOW. This is one I'm going to be processing for a while. Painful and honest and excellent. I don't really know how to describe the experience in any coherent way, but I am so glad to have read this book.

Book Recs!

Apr. 9th, 2016 03:50 pm
yolandekleinn: (Book Recs)
The Watchmaker of Filigree Street by Natasha Pulley

1883. Thaniel Steepleton returns home to his tiny London apartment to find a gold pocket watch on his pillow. Six months later, the mysterious timepiece saves his life, drawing him away from a blast that destroys Scotland Yard. At last, he goes in search of its maker, Keita Mori, a kind, lonely immigrant from Japan. Although Mori seems harmless, a chain of unexplainable events soon suggests he must be hiding something. When Grace Carrow, an Oxford physicist, unwittingly interferes, Thaniel is torn between opposing loyalties.

Why you should read it: This book is strange and confusing and completely delightful. The characters were beautifully painted, the detail and world building were lovely, and the atmosphere was tangible. While the pacing was a little slow to get moving, I never considered setting the book aside, and the ending was entirely worth the investment.

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Line and Orbit by Sunny Moraine & Lisa Soem

Adam Yuga, a rising young star in the imperialist Terran Protectorate, is on the verge of a massive promotion…until a routine physical exam reveals something less than perfection. Genetic flaws are taboo, and Adam soon discovers there’s a thin line between rising star and starving outcast.

Stripped of wealth and position, stricken with a mysterious, worsening illness, Adam resorts to stealing credits to survive. Moments from capture by the Protectorate, help arrives in the form of Lochlan, a brash, cocksure Bideshi fighter.

Now the Bideshi, a people long shunned by the Protectorate, are the only ones who will offer him shelter. As Adam learns the truth about the mysterious, nomadic people he was taught to fear, Lochlan offers him not just shelter—but a temptation Adam can only resist for so long.

Struggling to adapt to his new life, Adam discovers his illness hides a terrible secret, one that the Protectorate will stop at nothing to conceal. Time is growing short, and he must find the strength to close a centuries-old rift, accept a new identity—and hold on to a love that could cost him everything.

Why you should read it: I enjoy good science fiction, and this book hits a lot of great buttons. I found the world building vivid, the characters imperfect and compelling. The physical spaces in the story came across especially well. I liked this one a lot.

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For Real by Alexis Hall

Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable.  Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

Why you should read it: God this was satisfying. Gorgeous. Hot. Intimate and sexy as hell. This book was beautifully written, and I recommend it fiercely.

Three M/M Recs

Jan. 2nd, 2016 09:35 pm
yolandekleinn: (Book Recs)
Liesmith by Alis Franklin

Working in low-level IT support for a company that’s the toast of the tech world, Sigmund Sussman finds himself content, if not particularly inspired. As compensation for telling people to restart their computer a few times a day, Sigmund earns enough disposable income to gorge on comics and has plenty of free time to devote to his gaming group.

Then in walks the new guy with the unpronounceable last name who immediately becomes IT’s most popular team member. Lain Laufeyjarson is charming and good-looking, with a story for any occasion; shy, awkward Sigmund is none of those things, which is why he finds it odd when Lain flirts with him. But Lain seems cool, even if he’s a little different—though Sigmund never suspects just how different he could be. After all, who would expect a Norse god to be doing server reboots?

As Sigmund gets to know his mysterious new boyfriend, fate—in the form of an ancient force known as the Wyrd—begins to reveal the threads that weave their lives together. Sigmund doesn’t have the first clue where this adventure will take him, but as Lain says, only fools mess with the Wyrd. Why? Because the Wyrd messes back.

Why you should read it: I enjoyed this book ENORMOUSLY. Engaging characters, Norse mythology and creepy horror elements all layer together to make for a fascinating read. I found Sigmund especially likable, and will definitely be purchasing the second book in this series.

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Lord Heliodor's Retirement by Amy Rae Durreson

Unlikely hero Lord Adem Heliodor saved his queen’s life during the Screaming, a magical attack on his city, but his broken nerves have forced him into an unwanted early retirement to his country estate. Adem thinks his life is over, but retirement holds some surprises. First, there’s his new librarian, who turns out to be not just the first love he thought was dead, but also someone surprisingly knowledgeable about political intrigue. Then there’s the assassin in the orchard and the discovery that the Screaming was just the first attack on the city.

Why you should read it: Because it's charming, suspenseful and beautifully written. I liked both main characters enormously; and even more importantly, I adored their chemistry and rekindling relationship. The magic of the world was understated but well constructed, and I enjoyed the world building. Well done all around, an excellent read.

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The Ruin of Gabriel Ashleigh by KJ Charles

The youngest son and the blackest sheep in his family, Lord Gabriel Ashleigh never imagined he could sink so low. Though he’s a notoriously bad gambler, he takes on the formidable but strangely alluring Francis Webster, only to lose everything: all his money, the lovely estate he inherited from his aunt, and any hope of future happiness. So it’s a shock when Webster summons him to a private game for a chance to win back his possessions. The stake? If he fails, Ash must surrender his body.

Francis has been waiting years for this moment. At Eton, Ash’s elder brother harassed him relentlessly. Now, consumed by lust and rage, Francis is only too happy to exploit Ash’s foolish indiscretions. But as Francis strips the magnificently built youth—first of his family assets, then his clothes—he begins to wonder whether he’s been plotting revenge . . . or exquisite seduction.

Why you should read it: KJ Charles writes such amazing characters. Even in a work this short, the world and people feel maddeningly real. This story is also hot as fuck. I recommend it fiercely.
The Raven Cycle by Maggie Stiefvater

Blue Sargent, the daughter of the town psychic in Henrietta, Virginia, has been told for as long as she can remember that if she ever kisses her true love, he will die. But she is too practical to believe in things like true love. Her policy is to stay away from the rich boys at the prestigious Aglionby Academy. The boys there — known as Raven Boys — can only mean trouble.

Why you should read it: It's been a really long time since I read a series that worked its way this far under my skin. Something about the way the author puts her words together and sneaks into the characters' heads REALLY works for me. These characters are charmingly dysfunctional and beautifully codependent, and I fell for them hard. It doesn't hurt that the settings and world building are just as gorgeous and vivid. This series is one of my new favorites, and I will be anxiously awaiting release of "The Raven King" next year.

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George by Alex Gino

When people look at George, they see a boy. But George knows she’s a girl.

George thinks she’ll have to keep this a secret forever. Then her teacher announces that their class play is going to be
Charlotte’s Web. George really, really, REALLY wants to play Charlotte. But the teacher says she can’t even try out for the part … because she’s a boy.

With the help of her best friend Kelly, George comes up with a plan. Not just so she can be Charlotte — but so everyone can know who she is, once and for all.

Why you should read it: Okay, so this one is actually middle grade, not YA. And it is EXCELLENT. I don't have a lot of coherent things to say about it, beyond the fact that it hit me hard and was absolutely wonderful.

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The Miseducation of Cameron Post by Emily M. Danforth

When Cameron Post’s parents die suddenly in a car crash, her shocking first thought is relief. Relief they’ll never know that, hours earlier, she had been kissing a girl.

But that relief doesn’t last, and Cam is soon forced to move in with her conservative aunt Ruth and her well-intentioned but hopelessly old-fashioned grandmother. She knows that from this point on, her life will forever be different. Survival in Miles City, Montana, means blending in and leaving well enough alone (as her grandmother might say), and Cam becomes an expert at both.

Then Coley Taylor moves to town. Beautiful, pickup-driving Coley is a perfect cowgirl with the perfect boyfriend to match. She and Cam forge an unexpected and intense friendship — one that seems to leave room for something more to emerge. But just as that starts to seem like a real possibility, ultrareligious Aunt Ruth takes drastic action to ‘fix’ her niece, bringing Cam face-to-face with the cost of denying her true self — even if she’s not exactly sure who that is.

Why you should read it: This book was difficult and gorgeous and sharply written. Also devastating and excellent. It's one of those books I know I'll be processing for weeks, and even once I've managed to wrap my head around it I doubt I'll be done. Beautiful.
I feel like it's been ages since I posted any recommendations, but I've got some excellent reads to share today. All the stories in the lineup this round come from Dreamspinner Press's 2015 Daily Dose, Never Too Late.

Full disclosure: I have a story in the anthology as well. But there was never any question about whether or not I would read the whole package. Romances starring older men are right in my wheel house, and I've been so stoked to read the stories in this collection. These are three of my favorites so far. I've still got plenty more queued up on my e-reader, so you should probably brace for a Part Two to come.

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Saints Save a Sinner by Dawn Douglas

William Arthur Ainsworth, second son of the Earl of Cannahan, has just purchased a Lieutenant’s Commission in the Coldstream Regiment, British Foot Guards. A new officer, Will shows promise and is taken in hand by experienced Scottish Sargent Duncan Blair. Friendship grows into affection and desire as the men fight the French from Egypt to Sweden and back to the Spanish Peninsula through the six coalitions of the Napoleonic Wars. A bloody defeat in Spain and tragedy at home pull William away from service in the British Army and turn him from an officer to an earl, but status, time, and distance combined can’t change Will’s feelings for Duncan. When a hard-won peace is finally achieved, Will realizes the most important mission he may ever undertake will be convincing Duncan that the end of the fighting can mean the beginning of their lives together.

Why you should read it: Dawn Douglas writes beautifully, and I adored these characters. Two men so strong and stubborn that you can't help but root for them, and a historical setting that rings vividly true. I'm always impressed when an author manages to weave in actual historical events without fucking up the pacing of the story, and it's a feat well managed here. Gorgeous all around.

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A Life Without by Katya Harris

After decades of wondering and worrying over his submissive tendencies, fortysomething Todd decides to explore his fantasies. His first step is to join a BDSM club, and it's there that he meets Malik, a young and beautiful Dominant who is very interested in introducing Todd to this world. In fact, Malik is interested in everything about Todd, which is startling to the older man given the differences in their ages. Malik helps Todd explore his submissiveness, but after an unpleasant meeting with Todd’s ex-boyfriend, he also encourages him to confront his demons so he will no longer live his life in shame.

Why you should read it: I enjoyed this story a lot. The writing and tone were lovely, and the dialogue felt incredibly natural. Sometimes instant chemistry is a tough sell for me—for all the romance I read, love-at-first-sight isn't my thing—but I really bought the connection between Todd and Malik. I loved EVEN MORE the way they communicate clearly right from the start, about their needs and wants and intentions. Very satisfying.

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Don't Wanna Lose your Love by Kris T. Bethke

As it often does, the bad news comes in the middle of the night.

When attorney Ben Winters’s close friend takes a bad spill and ends up in the hospital, he flies across the country to be there for her. His instant attraction to her brother takes him by surprise. Wanting Zack Anderson is easy; actually having him is a bad idea. While the two connect over concern for Zack’s sister, there are many reasons to fight the attraction brewing between them. Things heat up as Ben’s friend begins to show improvement, but the reasons not to get involved with the younger man remain the same—long distance relationships never work, and Ben doesn’t do one-night stands. But there’s one powerful reason to give in: Ben has never wanted anyone more.

Why you should read it: I found this story charming and sweet. I could very much feel the difference in age between the characters, beyond just being told it was there, which was a joy to see. Lovely.
The Vintner's Luck by Elizabeth Knox

One summer evening in 1808, Sobran Jodeau stumbles through his family’s vineyard in Burgundy, filled with wine and love sorrows. As Sobran sways in a drunken swoon, an angel appears out of nowhere to catch him.Once he gets over his shock, Sobran decides that Xas, the male angel, is his guardian sent to counsel him on everything from marriage to wine production. But Xas turns out to be far more mysterious than angelic. Compelling and erotic, The Vintner’s Luck is a decidedly unorthodox love story, one that presents angels as fierce and beautiful as Milton’s, and a vision of Heaven, Hell, and the vineyards in between that is unforgettable.

Why you should read it: This book is difficult and bleak, but also warm and gorgeous. Incredibly vivid characters are depicted across a lifetime, a year at a time, and every step is full of life and feeling. There's ugliness, too—a genuine life isn't always pretty—but this was very much a book I couldn't put down once I started. I enjoyed the writing, bluntness and poetry combined in a way that was occasionally downright uncomfortable. This was an excellent read.

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Silhouette of a Sparrow by Molly Beth Griffin

Growing up in the 1920s, sixteen-year-old Garnet Richardson envies the birds outside her window. Her mother does not approve of Garnet climbing trees to peer into nests or any other such un-ladylike behavior. She has Garnet’s life all planned out: after finishing high school, she’ll marry and tend to the home. But when Garnet is sent away for the summer to stay with relatives in the lakeside resort town of Excelsior, Minnesota, she finds a chance to spread her wings. A newly built amusement park and roaring dance hall beckon, and her explorations land her where she least expects—in a growing relationship with a beautiful and daring flapper, Isabella.

So begins the most important summer of Garnet’s life. Caught between her family’s expectations and her own newfound passions, she must decide whose dreams to follow. Can she seize the freedom she so admires in birds?

Why you should read it: I found this book beautifully written, sweetly insightful, and incredibly genuine. Lovely characters, gorgeous historical settings, excellent pacing. It also sated my craving for well-crafted local (Minnesota) stories.

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Fixing the Hole by Katherine Halle

Heavy rains and strong winds slammed an uprooted tree through Steve Crowell’s roof, leaving a gaping hole to match the one in his heart. After his ex left him for a younger man, Steve’s not sure he’s ready to handle another disaster. His best friend highly recommended the contractor, but the man’s already late, and when he shows up with his music thumping, Steve isn’t impressed—until Riley steps out of his pickup truck. Personable, gorgeous Riley talks a mile a minute, which Steve finds both ridiculously endearing and terrifying. Piecing together a heart isn’t as easy as fixing a roof, but Riley might just be the right man for the job.

Why you should read it: What a lovely novella! Sweet, adorable and absolutely charming. A quick read, worth every moment.

Apparently I like posting these things in threes. So be it, here have some recommendations:

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Think of England by K.J. Charles

England, 1904. Two years ago, Captain Archie Curtis lost his friends, fingers, and future to a terrible military accident. Alone, purposeless and angry, Curtis is determined to discover if he and his comrades were the victims of fate, or of sabotage.

Curtis’s search takes him to an isolated, ultra-modern country house, where he meets and instantly clashes with fellow guest Daniel da Silva. Effete, decadent, foreign, and all-too-obviously queer, the sophisticated poet is everything the straightforward British officer fears and distrusts.

As events unfold, Curtis realizes that Daniel has his own secret intentions. And there’s something else they share—a mounting sexual tension that leaves Curtis reeling.

As the house party’s elegant facade cracks to reveal treachery, blackmail and murder, Curtis finds himself needing clever, dark-eyed Daniel as he has never needed a man before…

Why you should read it: I absolutely adored this book. Beautifully written suspense and romance. The historical details were vivid, consistent and often vital to the events unfolding throughout the story. Also relevant: this is a scorchingly hot read. The chemistry between the characters was gorgeous, and the steamy scenes were every bit as well written as the rest of the book. Major kudos to this one.

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What Happens at the Tavern Stays at the Tavern: Epic Fantasy Quest Erotica edited by Jennifer Levine

Since Tolkien’s time, many authors have taken readers along on elaborate treks through fantastic worlds. In "What Happens at the Tavern Stays at the Tavern," we asked writers to tackle the pauses and interstices in a fantasy quest. What kinds of steamy adventures happen behind the scenes, when our heroes and heroines are trekking along their journey?

Why you should read it: This title is a collection of stories in a variety of flavors, and I very much enjoyed it. My particular favorites among a strong lineup are "Encounter at the Lonely Dragon" (by Elinore Gray) and "The Place Where Heroes Are Made" (by Sarah Ellis).

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The Boss by Abigail Barnette

Sophie Scaife almost ran away once, trading her ticket to college for a ticket to Tokyo. But a delayed flight and a hot one-night stand with a stranger changed her mind, putting her firmly on track to a coveted position at a New York fashion magazine.

When the irresistible stranger from that one incredible night turns out to be her new boss – billionaire and publishing magnate Neil Elwood – Sophie can’t resist the chance to rekindle the spark between them… and the opportunity to explore her submissive side with the most Dominant man she’s ever known.

Neil is the only man who has ever understood Sophie’s need to submit in the bedroom, and the only man who has ever satisfied those desires. When their scorching, no-strings-attached sexual relationship becomes something more, Sophie must choose between her career and heart… or risk losing them both.

Why you should read it: Smart, sexy, beautifully written. Also free to download if it's the ebook version your interested in. The author hits you with a hell of a cliff-hanger at the end (it's the first in a series, so this isn't exactly a shock), but don't let that slow you down. Definitely worth the read. And though I haven't started it yet, I have ZERO regrets about buying the second book in this series. Can't wait to see where it goes next.

Maybe this is just me, but I've noticed a trend. The colder it gets, the more time I want to spend hiding like a burrito under a wall of blankets, reading whatever I can get my hands on. The sad truth about this urge is that I don't often get to indulge.

But it's still a nice way to finish a stressful day, and I'd like to recommend some of the things I've been enjoying when I get the chance.

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Sweetwater by Lisa Henry

Wyoming Territory, 1870.

Elijah Carter is afflicted. Most of the townsfolk of South Pass City treat him as a simpleton because he’s deaf, but that’s not his only problem. Something in Elijah runs contrary to nature and to God. Something that Elijah desperately tries to keep hidden.

Harlan Crane, owner of the Empire saloon, knows Elijah for what he is—and for all the ungodly things he wants. But Crane isn’t the only one. Grady Mullins desires Elijah too, but unlike Crane, he refuses to push the kid.

When violence shatters Elijah’s world, he is caught between two very different men and two devastating urges: revenge, and despair. In a boomtown teetering on the edge of a bust, Elijah must face what it means to be a man in control of his own destiny, and choose a course that might end his life . . . or truly begin it for the very first time.

Why you should read it: I thought this book was incredibly well done, though I wouldn't recommend it for everyone. It's got some dark themes that the author faces head-on, and there are moments that Lisa Henry's vivid writing makes for a stark picture. I definitely count these things as strengths, and was impressed with the way Henry balanced the difficult elements of the story. I found the ending very satisfying (don't worry, no spoilers here). And as always, Henry's dialogue and character voices are wonderful from start to finish.

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Going Home by Mychael Black

When Robbie’s father dies and he agrees to leave Baltimore for a backwoods farm in Alabama, he’s counting on a lot of things. A funeral. Problems with his brother Russ. A lot of time spent in the closet. What he doesn’t count on is the new farm hand, Seth. The handsome Texan has him drooling from the moment they meet, and has him well in hand not long after. That kind of comfort is just what he needs as family issues rear their ugly heads, but will it last for them after the first rush wears off?

Why you should read it: This was an excellent shorter story. Good writing, interesting characters, definitely one I enjoyed. There are further books in the series, though I haven't read them yet. You can find more complete info here if you're interested.

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Hot off the Press Anthology from Dreamspinner Press

Words hold the power to hurt as well as heal, and choosing them is a complicated and delicate process. No one knows this better than the men who work with them every day. Authors, reporters, reviewers and publishers struggle to balance truth, art, long hours, and stressful jobs. Whether they’re trying to write a novel or advance a career, it can leave little time for love. The men in this anthology are seeking romance on and off the job, in print and online, against backdrops of fact, fiction, and even fantasy. Their tales are different but have one thing in common—there’s a happy ending waiting on the last page.

Why you should read it: This is a solid anthology with a huge variety of stories, but there were three in particular that really got under my skin and blew me away...

On the Shelf by Eliza Maszar
I really loved both setup and execution in this one. Very sweet and well thought out, and I can't wait to see more by this writer.

Author's Notes by Kim Dias
I thought the characters in this story were just brilliantly done, and the whole thing was written beautifully in a style that took some fun chances and worked extremely well. This one really got to me.

Role Model by Becky Black
I thought the author did a fantastic job with the higher stakes in this story. The characters are coming from very different places, and Becky Black handles the inevitable conflicts and roadblocks in a way that felt incredibly genuine.

Here is a shocking confession: I like to read stuff.

Lately, for various reasons (some more exciting than others), I've been short on time for such pursuits. But just the same I've come across some wonderful things, and when that happens I like to share. Lots of the books and stories I love come to me by way of recommendations, so please, if you'll indulge me... I'd like to share a couple recommendations with YOU.

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Widdershins by Jordan L. Hawk

Repressed scholar Percival Endicott Whyborne has two skills: reading dead languages and hiding in his office at the Ladysmith Museum. After the tragic death of the friend he secretly loved, he’s ruthlessly suppressed any desire for another man.

So when handsome ex-Pinkerton Griffin Flaherty approaches him to translate a mysterious book, Whyborne wants to finish the job and get rid of the detective as quickly as possible. Griffin left the Pinkertons following the death of his partner, hoping to start a new life. But the powerful cult which murdered Glenn has taken root in Widdershins, and only the spells in the book can stop them. Spells the intellectual Whyborne doesn’t believe are real.

As the investigation draws the two men closer, Griffin’s rakish charm threatens to shatter Whyborne’s iron control. When the cult resurrects an evil sorcerer who commands terrifying monsters, can Whyborne overcome his fear and learn to trust? Will Griffin let go of his past and risk falling in love? Or will Griffin’s secrets cost Whyborne both his heart and his life?

Why you should read it:
"Widdershins" is the start of the "Whyborne & Griffin" series, and I purchased the rest of the books before I'd even finished reading the first. Hawk does a wonderful job with tension and atmosphere, painting a likable narrator into a well-paced adventure. I thought the horror and mystery elements were especially well done, and I was even more impressed by the dialogue. It can be tough to get the tone right in a historical setting, and Hawk does a wonderful job.

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Dry Bones by Lucius Parhelion

New Mexico Territory in 1896 wasn't the easiest place for a couple of cowboys to make a living. Being fired from their last spread for refusing to illegally evict a family of grangers was an unexpected blow. Just as well that Joss quickly found work for himself and his partner Ox, carting around giant lizard bones for a wealthy Eastern greenhorn afraid of bone rustlers.

Joss had no way of knowing that Ox and their new employer had already met. Given Ox's stolid silence, Joss had also never suspected the secrets buried deeper than any dried-up bones in Ox's past. And Joss had surely never realized what hidden feelings underlay their partnership.

Now Joss will have to decide what Ox's friendship is truly worth, he’ll have to make some hard choices, if he can survive those dried-up bones long enough to find the time to choose.

Why you should read it:
"Dry Bones" is a really fun story. I actually read it quite some time ago, but it's one that has stuck with me. I really liked the setup (dinosaur bones!) and the writing, and if you have a chance I definitely recommend checking it out.

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Dark Space by Lisa Henry

Brady Garrett needs to go home. Brady’s a conscripted recruit on Defender Three, one of a network of stations designed to protect the Earth from alien attack. Brady is angry, homesick, and afraid. If he doesn’t get home he’ll lose his family, but there’s no way back except in a body bag. 

Cameron Rushton needs a heartbeat. Four years ago Cam was taken by the Faceless — the alien race that almost destroyed Earth. Now he’s back, and when the doctors make a mess of getting him out of stasis, Brady becomes his temporary human pacemaker. Except they’re sharing more than a heartbeat: they’re sharing thoughts, memories, and some very vivid dreams.

Not that Brady’s got time to worry about his growing attraction to another guy, especially the one guy in the universe who can read his mind. It doesn’t mean anything. It’s just biochemistry and electrical impulses. It doesn’t change the truth: Brady’s alone in the universe. 

Now the Faceless are coming and there’s nothing anyone can do. You can’t stop your nightmares. Cam says everyone will live, but Cam’s probably a traitor and a liar like the military thinks. But that’s okay. Guys like Brady don’t expect happy endings. 

Why you should read it:
"Dark Space" is an intense read, starring complicated characters who are stuck coping with a difficult situation. On the sci-fi side of things, Henry has done a terrific job creating a vivid and gritty world — both on a grand scale, and in the more immediate setting. The character voices are BEAUTIFULLY crafted, the people every bit as vivid as the fucked up world they inhabit. It's an impressive feat, and I loved this book for it.



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