My July Reading Log

For a Readercon panel, I re-read The Steerswoman by Rosemary Kirstein and its three sequels.
It did not matter to her that she walked in danger; it only mattered that she could speak and act freely again, and that the power given to her by her training and nature need not be hidden like some secret sin…The change, she knew, was only in herself; she was relieved of deception, and her mind was free to work on its familiar paths. She recognized for the first time that lies worked damage in two directions.

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score: Seducing the Sedgwicks by Cat Sebastian was recommended to me, but I don’t remember who it was, or why. It turned out to be second in a series, but was easy enough to follow. Set in 1817 London, it’s a male/male romance about an interracial couple. Sam Fox is a former boxer who runs a pub that serves as a social center for some of London’s black community; Hartley Sedgwick rose from impoverished gentility to higher society, but was recently disgraced when rumors of his sexual relationship with his godfather came to light. Possible trigger: he blames himself for exchanging sex for a better life for his brothers, but he was sixteen years old and coerced. Both heroes are kind and considerate of each other, and good at psychology. It’s light on the historical atmosphere, and rich in found family narrative. Recommended if you like soothing stories about good people who are good together.

The Covert Captain: Or, A Marriage of Equals by Jeannelle M. Ferreira features a crossdressing English cavalry captain who falls in love with her major’s sister, just after the Napoleonic Wars. I particularly liked that some of the LGBT community of the period is shown, so the captain is not alone in her masquerade; her well-off lover, however, had a much harder time of it due to parental expectations. It’s written in a style more reminiscent of the period than most historical romances usually attempt.

Incalculable Diffusion (Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle Book 3) by L.A. Hall is delightful if you’re already familiar with the main Comfortable Courtesan series; it’s a collection of letters and stories that mostly take place after the end of the original series, and provides more information about some events that were referenced in the previous Circle volume. I ate it right up.

Null Set by S.L. Huang is the second book about Cas Russell, an amnesiac mercenary with a mathematical superpower. I enjoyed it, but felt the book was trying a bit too hard to hit similar notes to the first one; the stakes are upped because Cas’ own memories are, potentially, the Big Bad. The best part was the story’s exploration of gray areas of morality, particularly decisions made for people and their safety instead of by them, and where both types of choices can go wrong, and what a slippery slope that can be. I am assuming there will be more in this series? I’m interested to see where it goes.

Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell was a book that enchanted me when I was young; I’d bought a copy some years ago, as an adult, and re-read it to see if I wanted to keep it. The answer is no, because it is about a thousand times more depressing to read this book as an adult who has anthropological knowledge and understands grief, and now knows it was based on true events.

Sad spoilers ahead! It starts off with a tribe of indigenous people living on an island off the coast of California; Aleuts travel down the coast to hunt sea otters and fail to pay the locals for this imposition. There are some white people who treat them badly, as well, and soon most of the men on the island are dead. The people decide to leave the island with missionaries. The protagonist Karana’s little brother is left behind, and she leaves the ship to get him, hoping someone will come back for them. Nobody comes. Her little brother is killed by wild dogs. (At this point, I remembered skipping the beginning on re-reads.) She manages to make a smaller canoe that she can handle from a larger one that had been left behind, plans to kill the wild dogs and does kill a bunch of them before taming one that the Aleuts had left behind to go feral. She has a dog for a companion, yay! But Karana is stuck on this island for eighteen years, and she is lonely and has to come up with strategies to cheer herself up, like making a new dress decorated with feathers. I remember loving reading about her making spears and places to hide in caves and other survival-related tasks. Once, briefly, she has some time with an Aleut girl who comes to the island with her family (?) but Karana has to remain hidden from the hunters, and then the Aleuts leave again. Her dog dies of old age and she captures his son and tames him, so she has a dog again. Eventually she is rescued and goes to live in a Catholic mission, but nobody knows what happened to her people, and nobody spoke her language anymore. The modern estimate is that ninety percent of the indigenous population of California died of disease or were killed in the nineteenth century, so this story made me way sadder than before I knew this.

Wolf Rain by Nalini Singh is new in the Psy-Changeling universe, but a new overarching storyline apparently started while I wasn’t looking, so this was third in Psy-Changeling Trinity. I was very faithful to this series for quite a while. It featured a world inhabited by baseline humans, humans with psychic powers, and humans who could change into animals, everything from rats to wolves to hawks to leopards, but mostly focusing on the wolves and leopards because predators are always the hot ones in paranormal romance. Singh set up automatic conflict between the very emotional Changelings and the emotion-suppressing Psy. Mate-bonding between a Psy and a Changeling would result in the Psy being freed to feel, and eventually it was revealed that Silence, the suppression of emotion, was harming all Psy. At this stage in the series, Silence is no longer endorsed, and the new conflict involves the Psy struggling to deal with the resulting changes and damage to the psychic network that ties them all together, and recovering from what their society had done to empathic Psy under Silence.

This particular volume features an empath who was held captive and exploited by a sociopathic Psy, then rescued by a wolf Changeling whose brother, father, and grandfather all died as a result of a Changeling disorder that made them lose human connection and murder their loved ones. Meanwhile, another Psy is having weird blackouts and indirectly attacking empaths, as a result of Silence damage. Despite all those issues, the couple end up together happily and relatively smoothly. The heroine, having been isolated for so long, loves living among the close-knit Changeling society, so there’s a found family element. And lots of couples from previous books show up.

I don’t think I’m going to go back to this series in any dedicated way, but I admire the way Singh structured this world and has allowed paradigm shift to allow further exploration of her themes.

I had been saving Merely a Marriage by Jo Beverley, since it was her last novel, and she is one of my favorite historical romance authors. I devoured it over the weekend, delighting in the complex, justified conflicts between the characters, and the portrayal of two people who had changed and grown up since their last brief encounter. Several of Beverley’s books have been re-reads for me, so when next I visit her work, that will be how.

The Beverley put me into a historical romance mood, so I started in on Courtney Milan’s “Brothers Sinister” series; I’d read the introductory novella a while back. The Duchess War features a couple coping with and overcoming past traumas; they’re a former child prodigy and a radical duke, which offered a nice change to the usual roles of historical romance couples.

A Kiss for Midwinter is the sequel novella, featuring the romance of secondary characters from The Duchess War; I found the doctor character, in particular, delightful, because he’s so blunt and straightforward.

Black Panther Book 6: The Intergalactic Empire of Wakanda Part 1 by Ta-Nehisi Coates (2018) is really cool; it seems to be an Elseworlds type of story, in which Wakanda is an evil, dominating intergalactic space empire and Maroon rebels take the names Nakia, M’Baku, and T’Challa as they fight back. N’Jadaku (aka Erik Killmonger) is the emperor who looks like he will have a bigger role in the next volume. Coates is writing a slavery allegory, if you can call it an allegory when there are literal slaves in the vibranium mines, some of them dark-skinned humans, some of them aliens of various types. The slaves, here called “mules,” have had their memories erased, and this made me think of how American slavery, by removing people from their home, then selling them away from their families, forcibly removed their cultural and familial memories, which has terrible long-term repercussions. If you didn’t get into Coates’ first Black Panther series, you might want to give this one a try. The resonant thematic aspect reminded me of Coates’ Black Panther and the Crew: We Are the Streets, which I also loved.

Champions Vol. 2: The Freelancer Lifestyle by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos languished unfinished on my tablet for a while, mostly because I was not carrying around my tablet. I applaud this series for attempting to show new solutions to traditional superhero problems, and new angles on the responsibilities superheroes would have to their communities. But at the time I was finishing this volume, I felt hopeless and was doubting any of those strategies would work. It was by no means the fault of the comic. Another week, I would have been uplifted.

Originals: How Non-Conformists Move the World by Adam Grant is what it says in the title. Each chapter looks at another aspect of “original” behavior, with a focus on people who are inventors and businesspeople. Though the author cites every study he references, it’s a very talky style and easy to read; I could easily see the chapters presented as individual talks. I would recommend reading the chapters with a bit of space between them, because I started to get annoyed with seeing the same rhetorical tricks used repeatedly, most frequently relating an anecdote about a famous person or event but not revealing the identifying information until the end of the story. Interesting thing I learned: the first people to come up a business based on a New Thing and rush into it don’t generally do as well financially as those who wait a bit, see the lay of the land, and then approach the New Thing from a new angle. I was not very surprised to learn that people who produce a lot of work tend to produce a higher number of original and lasting creations; I thought immediately of Bach, though I think even his work that doesn’t get much attention is better than a lot of other people’s, I will fight you on that. I was pleased to learn that successful “originals” tend to balance risks with safer bets rather than going all in and, say, immediately quitting their dayjob.

Parts 11 and 12 of the post-series Buffy: the Vampire Slayer series Snapshots/Cleveland verse by nwhepcat were posted recently. Part 11 included some material I’d already read, but now enmeshed in a larger narrative that flowed into part 12, which had a delightful twist. I love this series because I feel it does some of the characters better than the canon, and has a cast of lovable, complex original characters as well. It’s a perfect example of “more of this, but better.”

Like Real People Do by xiaq is a Check Please! romance between Kent Parsons, who might as well be an original character, and a truly original character, Eli, who is a figure skater with an injury-induced seizure disorder, and also a friend of Bitty’s. I enjoyed this sweet romance and gentle coming-out story a lot though I wish there’d been more proofreading; there were a lot of homonym-type errors which might have come from using voice recognition software, or just from the fact that the author appears to be a graduate student and has no time. I felt the story was intended to be a parallel to the canon Bitty/Jack relationship, and perhaps a commentary on it, but maybe I am thinking about this too much! Bonus service dog and protective giant hockey players. I do not think canon knowledge is necessary to read it.

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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