My January Reading Log

The Ritual Bath by Faye Kellerman is first in the contemporary Decker/Lazarus mystery series. A violent rape and then a brutal murder take place in a tightknit yeshiva community in California; we get the pov of Rina Lazarus, the widow of one of the scholars, and Peter Decker, the police detective. The two protagonists develop a romantic interest in each other that I assume is further addressed as the series progresses. I will probably read the next one in the series, once I get through some more of my TBR.

A Study in Honor (The Janet Watson Chronicles) by Claire O’Dell is set in a near-future dystopic America caught up in a new Civil War; Watson and Holmes are both women of color. I enjoyed the book but it didn’t feel Holmesian to me, mainly because Holmes was more of an opaque spy/intelligence agent than a detective. The book is more about Watson, which is fine because she’s an intriguing character dealing with post-traumatic issues and a badly-functioning prosthetic arm and veteran’s bureaucratic issues that resonate strongly with our present world. I’d call it speculative fiction rather than a mystery.

Spectred Isle by K.J. Charles is a post-World War One light fantasy with male/male romance. Protagonist Saul Lazenby discovers there’s magic in England in the 1920s, and ends up working with others to prevent paranormal disasters, in what feels like the setup for a Found Family series.

Dark in Death by J.D. Robb is…number forty-six in the series. I read this one in tiny bits and snatches, but was able to follow because I know the series formula. I think it was slightly better than the last one in the series, but not outstanding. There was a meta element that was moderately entertaining: the murderer is re-creating murders from a book series.

Murder in Belgravia by Lynn Brittney is set in London during World War One, and had some nice historical detail including a zeppelin bombing raid that made me wonder if the author owns the same Osprey book I have on the topic. A possibly-triggery brutal injury to a woman (spoiler: she survives) happens right at the beginning, but thereafter the tone is cozy mystery, despite one other episode of a badly injured young man being rescued. The characters all felt bland to me, and their relationships were far too easy. I didn’t like it enough to see if there were more in the series.

I celebrated the new year with a re-read of The Steerswoman series by Rosemary Kirstein. Reading in close sequence, The Steerswoman and The Outskirter’s Secret present accumulated clues to what’s really going on in a most satisfying way; as the reader, I feel great satisfaction when I can figure things out before the characters, because I have more knowledge than they do, but there are enough twists and surprises that I am far from omnipotent. The Lost Steersman adds a new twist to the worldbuilding, and The Language of Power coalesces several parts of the story. I now sadly contemplate waiting for volumes five and six. I absolutely adore books with the appearance of fantasy that turn out to be science fiction, and this series is even more rewarding on a second read. Highly recommended, and now available in electronic editions.

Any Duchess Will Do by Tessa Dare is fourth in the super-fluffy Spindle Cove historical romance series about a village full of unconventional women. This one loosely follows a “My Fair Lady” plot. While I felt no sense of historical reality, I did enjoy the heroine’s thoughts and opinions quite a bit, which for me outbalanced the usual Hero Angst. At least, this time, I felt the Hero Angst was justified; it wasn’t the usual Angst Trope. If you like fluffy historicals, such as Julia Quinn, Tessa Dare is in the same wheelhouse.

The Walls of Troy by L.A. Witt is contemporary male/male romance which started out with a bit of an intriguing mystery plot, but alas for me soon became a lot of sex scenes that I couldn’t muster up attention for. I was in the mood for mystery/thriller, and wasn’t getting it, because this was a romance. Bonus points for a Turkish-American protagonist in the Navy.

A Dead Djinn in Cairo by P. Djèlí Clark is supercool steampunk set in an alternate 1912 Egypt, with a female detective and a cross-dressing lesbian and assorted supernatural creatures. The worldbuilding is utterly fabulous. Alas, it is short (46 e-reader pages) so there is way less of it than I was hoping.

So Lucky by Nicola Griffith is a short novel with fairly minor speculative elements that affect the first-person narrator’s emotions more than anything else, but are important to the story’s resolution. The protagonist is an athletic lesbian, director of an AIDS charity, who is diagnosed with multiple sclerosis. She passes through realistic stages of dealing with not only the disease’s progress but with how society and her loved ones treat her while she organizes a new nationwide nonprofit that seems to have unexpectedly dangerous consequences. I suspect, in future, this will be high on the list of recommended #ownvoices fiction about people with disabilities. I was completely swept away by it until the ending, which to me felt too abrupt, even though it did what it needed to do and resolved a character arc.

The First, the Few, the Forgotten: Navy and Marine Corps Women in World War I by Jean Ebbert and Marie-Beth Hall is exactly what is says on the tin, beginning with the decision to recruit women to serve as navy yeomen (clerks) on land to free up men to serve on ships, and ending with how some of their lives were changed, and the things they accomplished, some of which were as a result of their service. A lot more people remember the WWII WAVES than they do the WWI “Yeomen (F),” and I think that’s a shame.

fight like girls for our place at the table by napricot focuses on Sharon Carter, from the beginning of her assignment to keep an eye on Steve Rogers in The Winter Soldier, and features a slow-build romance with Natasha Romanov. Recommended!

For one of my Arisia panels, I did re-read the first Morlocks story, which is two issues long, in Uncanny X-Men 169-170. I include image links so you can see the covers.

This story introduces a group of mutants who live underground and refer to themselves as Morlocks, specifically referencing The Time Machine by H.G. Wells; many of them have unusual physical forms or powers, and are angry at mutants who can “pass” as human. Some of them, such as Caliban (who can identify other mutants much like the computer Cerebro), speak in an affected dialect, which seems to be meant to indicate non-standard mentality. Caliban sounds weirdly formal but also childlike, and speaks of himself in the third person.

The leader of the Morlocks, Callisto, could easily pass as human. She kidnaps Warren Worthington (Angel) to be her husband. I found it amusing, on this read, that Warren has no lines, he’s just there to wear a little white loincloth and, at the wedding, a baby blue fetish harness. (He’s shown in costume on the cover, but nope, he was totally eye candy inside.) The X-Men track Warren down and clash with the Morlocks; it’s resolved by Ororo (Storm) battling Callisto in single combat. Callisto does not know Ororo grew up a street kid and is quite good at knife-fighting.

After Ororo’s victory, the Morlocks ask Kurt Wagner (Nightcrawler) if he would like to stay with them, as he is blue-skinned with a prehensile tail. Kurt replies that he’s spent so much time already working to be accepted by the world at large that he doesn’t want to give up until he succeeds. However, he doesn’t tell them he thinks separatism is a bad idea.

The story raises the issue, again, of how mutants are treated by the outside world, but adds on how “ugly” mutants are treated by “pretty” mutants. There isn’t a huge amount of depth, but reading this as a young teenager, I remember feeling empathy for the Morlocks and noting that they make good points. X-Men has many flaws so far as representation goes, but I’m still glad it was around for me and for so many others.

About Victoria Janssen

Victoria Janssen [she, her] currently writes cozy space opera for Kalikoi. The novella series A Place of Refuge begins with Finding Refuge: Telepathic warrior Talia Avi, genius engineer Miki Boudreaux, and augmented soldier Faigin Balfour fought the fascist Federated Colonies for ten years, following the charismatic dissenter Jon Churchill. Then Jon disappeared, Talia was thought dead, and Miki and Faigin struggled to take Jon’s place and stay alive. When the FC is unexpectedly upended, Talia is reunited with her friends and they are given sanctuary on the enigmatic planet Refuge. The trio of former guerillas strive to recover from lifetimes of trauma, build new lives on a planet with endless horizons, and forge tender new connections with each other.
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