Silvia Moreno-Garcia: Gods of Jade and Shadow

Both the 1920’s Mexican setting and the underpinning of Mayan myth set “Gods of Jade and Shadow” apart from the vast majority of fantasy fiction; the combination lends this novel firmly in “not like anything else I’ve ever read” territory. Even when the bones of the plot feel (appropriately!) familiar, the way it unfolds is surprising (and I didn’t know how the novel would resolve its conflicts until I got to the end).

Moreno-Garcia’s prose is rich and atmospheric; she’s particularly good at depicting the intrusion of otherworldliness into naturalistic settings.

I was a tiny bit distracted by the narrative voice, mostly third-person omniscient, it occasionally verges on an authorial “I.”

I’m impatient now for the upcoming “Mexican Gothic!”

Chi Yu Rodriguez: No Two Ways

From other reviews, this short novel seems very polarizing: A bisexual woman and and a bi-phobic lesbian negotiate a mutual attraction. I found KJ Charles’ review very helpful; he praises this book not so much for its exploration of sexual identity but for not punishing its protagonists for hookup culture or binge drinking. Perhaps because I came to it from this angle, it didn’t give me all the proverbial “feels,” but I did feel like I learned something about the perspective of a particular person who looks at the world in a very different way from me.

I also appreciated how AJ (the sole viewpoint character here) also explores how her initial realization of her bisexuality impacted the heterosexual relationship she was in at the time, and I liked that her job – an infosecurity manager – plays against gender stereotypes, and was believably described. I thought the makeover reality show subplot was fun (if a little long on coincidence).

Andrea Beatriz Arango: Westwood Monster Patrol

I really enjoyed Andrea Beatriz Arango’s modernized take on “A Christmas Carol,” and I was eager to read anything else I could get my hands on, enough to read a little out of my comfort zone. And I’m glad I took a chance on this, it’s completely unlike any other supernatural-themed YA I’ve read.

The “big bad” draws on a folklore tradition that is not at all overexposed. No vamps or werewoofs here. The characters were believable, likably flawed, and oh yes, multicultural. The language is a bit saltier than a lot of the YA I’ve read, and there’s a lot of moral complexity.

Like Arango’s other story, there are a lot of fun pop culture references, and knowing a bit of Spanish won’t hurt. (One little detail I really liked, actually, is that some of the characters don’t speak Spanish, so if you don’t understand every line of dialogue, you’re sharing an experience with the character – but also, there’s always Google Translate if you need it. And I did, a few times.)

I would welcome a sequel, but I’m also happy to meet whatever other characters Arango wants to introduce me to.

Grady Hendrix: Horrorstör

The physical design of this book is fantastic. The faux-Ikea descriptions and illustrations are pitch-perfect, right up to the point they turn sinister and twisted. I enjoyed the earlier, funnier, half more than the second, but a lot of that is due to my personal preferences. I wanted the protagonists’ economic stresses to play into the horror aspect, with the Orsk organization itself being the source of the (maybe cosmic?) evil, and that’s just not how it goes. Also it had somewhat more graphic descriptions of injuries than I’m comfortable with, especially when male writers are describing women being hurt – not to a torture porn level or anything, but unpleasant for me. Still, overall, it was a hoot. How has this not been filmed? 

Lucy Score: The Worst Best Man

I loved Mia Sosa’s book of the same title so much that I read a bunch of reviews, looking for other readers as enthused about it as I was … and I stumbled on one that mentioned also really liking this novel.

And I did, eventually, really like this too. What won me over primarily is that it’s actively working to subvert alpha-billionaire tropes, and it’s a bit nuanced about it: Frankie doesn’t want to be swept off her feet, but it is hard to resist a nice dress; Aiden has to learn to rein in his desire to reduce Franchesca’s financial pressures. I appreciated that the depiction of the business side of Aiden & co. didn’t strain my credulity much, and I liked Frankie’s collisions with the society-column set. Also, skirting spoilers, someone’s dastardly scheme goes slightly awry in a way I found very satisfying.

Didn’t like so much: the book shifts tone quite a bit, it starts out rather madcap (no spoilers, but someone gets kidnapped), and then it gets more serious. Wasn’t sure of the book’s politics at first, with rich people partying on Barbados, and some not-entirely-convincing attempts to depict life outside the resort bubble, but by the end I felt in safe territory. It felt maybe a little long to me, too? Although I’m not sure what I would suggest cutting out.

My first from Lucy Score, but certainly won’t be the last.

Mia Sosa: The Worst Best Man

Things I found delightful about this book, an incomplete list: vivid, credible portrayal of my hometown (made me sorry I never went to “The Grill from Ipanema” when I lived there, though); learned a bit of Portuguese; #enemiestolovers that I believed on both sides; protagonists’ careers are important to the plot/theme, and convincingly depicted; had a substantial and interesting plot in addition to the romance; made me chortle; great supporting cast; hot consent; #allthefeels.
Things I didn’t find delightful: hardly anything worth mentioning.
My first from Mia Sosa. Will not be the last!

Blake Crouch: Recursion

There was a lot I really liked about this novel and a few things I really didn’t. I avoided reading anything about it beforehand, but I’m guessing it’s dogged by comparisons to Christopher Nolan’s films (both “Memento” and “Inception,” particularly) and maybe to Kaufman/Gondry’s “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind,” and really, if this is somehow not already under option, someone should jump on that.

My reaction is very like my reaction to Nolan’s work: wow, a lot of really cool idea, but dang, the story is very action-movie-ish (lots of guns). A version of a thing I fundamentally don’t like that is executed so well (and in many respects thoughtfully) that I’m pulled in despite myself. I read the whole book in less than two days.

I was willing to digest some big lumps of exposition, and some aspects that initially made me struggle with suspension of disbelief were eventually satisfactorily explained. My biggest problem with the book is structural, quite near the denouement: there’s a point where the reader gains an insight that the characters almost have. The story takes the foot of the gas there for me from a narrative standpoint, but from a plot mechanics perspective there are a bunch of things to ratchet up the stakes that cumulatively felt a bit mechanical. The metaphorical equivalent, maybe, of how a car’s ignition never catches the first time in movies when something is after you. Pulled me out of the book for a bit (although it pulled me back before the wrap-up).

[And, not a spoiler, but a gratuitous reference to T***p, or anyway one of his buildings, really made me wince. Not an explicitly political book. Has one definitively POC character with dialogue, no significant queer rep, and would just barely squeak by the Bechdel test if filmed as written. So.]

Amy Daws: Wait with Me

This was 80% my catnip, but that last 20% … oh boy.

Positives first: romance novel about a romance novelist struggling with writer’s block and writing in a tire shop was written in a tire shop (for real). Lots of fun meta touches, with Romancelandia terminology used within the book. When the characters assert that they are real people, not characters in a romance, that was a bit much even for me, but mostly this was breezy (and racy) fun.

But then protagonist Miles gets a character attribute that in real life would be a HUGE “run away” red flag. It really undercut the degree to which I felt the HEA was deserved (or even “happy”).