Can’t Find My Way Home by Gwynne Garfinkle is a ghost story that’s also a period piece. Vividly set in mid-1970s New York City, it features Joanna Bergman, a young actress in a soap opera who’s developing an intense crush on a married co-star while simultaneously trying to deal with her guilt and grief over the untimely death of her best friend, Cynthia. The story moves back and forth in time between Joanna and Cynthia’s college years, when they were activists in the antiwar and antiracism movements, and the present day in which Joanna has attempted to move on after Cynthia’s death, for which she feels partly responsible. Joanna’s encounters with a ghostly version of Cynthia result in her experiencing a range of different outcomes from the fateful night of Cynthia’s death. I actually stayed up late to finish reading the novel because I truly could not predict the ending. The characterization is marvelous, and I especially loved the details about the production of daily soap operas. Note that I know this author, but I was not a preliminary reader and did not contribute any critique.
Two Rogues Make a Right by Cat Sebastian is third in the “Seducing the Sedgwicks” series, in which sickly, repressed Martin and traumatized ex-Navy midshipman Will renew their boyhood friendship and finally acknowledge that their feelings for each other are far more intense than friendship. Despite some heavy themes relating to past abuse for both characters, the tone is fairly light and sweet.
A Psalm for the Wild-Built by Becky Chambers felt like it ended too quickly, but is otherwise utterly charming. Sibling Dex, a tea monk on a far-future utopian moon, is searching for crickets and meaning, both of which they hope to find in a vast wilderness set aside by humans after ecological catastrophe. There Dex encounters Splendid Speckled Mosscap, a self-aware robot who engages them in a number of engaging philosophical discussions. I also liked the backstory: robots who became sentient the Factory Age and were thereafter released by humans from their labors, after which humans began to mend their polluting, capitalistic ways. The robots wandered off into the newly-freed up wilderness and did their own thing; Dex is one of the first to encounter a robot in generations. In the interim before the story begins, both cultures grew and changed; it appears they have much to learn from one another. It’s pleasant and thought-provoking.
The Heart Principle by Helen Hoang starts off as an Asian-American contemporary romance between Anna, a socially-awkward professional violinist and Quan, a self-made fashion industry CEO, but there is a lot more than that going on in this story, some of it intensely emotionally difficult. Spoilers ahead. Anna is on leave from her orchestra after unexpected internet fame left her unable to be satisfied with her violin playing; instead of playing through a piece written specifically for her, she keeps feeling critical and going back to the beginning before she can finish, over and over and over. She’s trapped in an awful relationship that her family wants more than she does; then her oblivious, entitled boyfriend tells her he wants an open relationship. Anna subsequently meets Quan on a dating app. Quan is healing emotionally from an experience with testicular cancer; his best friend and business partner encourages him to get back into dating. Meanwhile, Anna learns she is on the autism spectrum and Quan is contacted by Louis Vuitton, who want to buy out their small children’s clothing company. Already a lot, right? While in the midst of developing an incredibly sweet relationship, Anna’s father has a debilitating stroke, and the whole middle section of the book spirals into Anna’s difficulties with her family, and with her father’s condition and care. Quan is there for Anna whenever she needs him, and though she inadvertently hurts him, their support of each other ultimately saves them both. It was upsetting but gripping to take this journey with them, and I stayed up late to finish the book and find out how both their lives were made better by supporting each other. The story has a long tail in which Anna slowly recovers from autistic burnout with Quan’s help, and reconnects with her mother.
Servant Mage by Kate Elliott is a novella set in a world where a magical monarchy has been overthrown by sort-of Cromwellian fascists who forcibly take all magical children and brainwash them into indentured servitude. It’s definitely in conversation with the style of epic fantasy in which the monarchy is always good and right. The protagonist, Fellian, is a fire mage whose mother and Older Father were executed by the government for sedition. She’s rescued from servitude by rogue monarchist mages who need her help; Fellian negotiates with them for a fair exchange, then helps them with a couple of missions. However, in the end, Fellian is still not converted to the monarchist cause, and has plans of her own. What I really would like to see is where Fellian goes from here.
What Livin’ is For by LadyJanelly crosses over Leverage with the movie version of The Losers for a delightfully slashy romance matching up Eliot Spencer with established couple Carlos “Cougar” Alvarez and Jake Jensen. For a threesome story about three mercenary soldiers, it’s amazingly sweet.
The Distant Sky by fallintosanity (yopumpkinhead) for Alyndra crosses over the television show Supernatural with The Books of the Raksura and really makes it work. Villains on Earth steal the queen Consolation; Moon and his terrifying mother Malachite look for her, soon with the help of Dean and Sam. Then more Raksura arrive, including Jade, Chime, Stone, and Kethel. Sam and Kethel end up bonding. It was great and I loved it.
The Humbling River by mysterycyclone focuses on Tony Stark’s relationship with Peter Parker/Spiderman, but Peter is missing and later presumed dead for a good portion of the story, so there’s a lot of angst. However, spoiler, Peter is not dead, and Venom is biting people’s heads off which is not surprising because Venom. The Venom reveal was in no way a surprise to me, but I enjoyed the characterization knowing it would have a happy ending.
Heart Full of Gasoline by sdwolfpup is a massive Jaime Lannister/Brienne of Tarth romance mashed up with Formula One racing. I have not read or seen Games of Thrones, but I was easily able to follow the characters and plot. Jaime is notorious for having been involved in a crash fatal to a champion driver, and has difficulty finding crew; he hires Brienne, from an out-of-the-way island, to be his chief mechanic. Brienne had a brief foray into the racing world cut short by cruel misogyny; she’s willing to try again because she loves racing. The racing plot focuses on both their journeys, including Jaime’s conflicts with his conniving, villainous father and Brienne’s fight for respect, first as a mechanic and race engineer, and then as a driver. Meanwhile, their romance weaves throughout, and they build up a large Found Family. The characterization is great and there’s a very satisfying happy ending. Content warning related to Game of Thrones canon: Jaime suffers a racing accident and his right hand is amputated. General content warning: Brienne suffers from self-consciousness due to her height and muscular build, and considers herself unattractive; realistically, she doesn’t magically recover from these lifelong issues though they do improve when she’s happy in her relationship.