Ester and Artemisia – Rivka Aarons-Hughes

The premise of Ester and Artemisia is wonderful–Adina, a brilliant black art professor, must decide whether or not to authenticate a painting forged by her forger crush/nemesis, Ester–, but the prose leaves something to be desired and the commentary on racism is superficial.

That said, the chemistry between the main characters and the unique scenario they found themselves in kept me reading this short and steamy romance (about 20,000 words or a little more than 50 pages). The sex is not generic, but serves to further individualize the characters. And though I’m no art expert myself, the symbolic centering of Artemisia Gentileschi, the Baroque artist who endured torture in order to see her rapist convicted and went on to paint compelling and emotional works, was very satisfying.

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That said, Aarons-Hughes’s fictional Gentileschi forgery is, as described, more interesting than the Black Lives Matter allegory which Ester also paints. Although discussion of racism could have been a more organic part of the story, since Adina is black and Ester, who is Hispanic, sees no way to break into the mostly-white professional art world as an original artist, it ends up heavy-handed and very broad.

Aside from this off note and the numerous cliches in the text (butterflies in Adina’s stomach, for example), this is a quick and engrossing read, full of detail about art, food, and sex. If you’re looking for novella-length romance, it’s worth checking out. And the cover is absolutely lovely!

Note: My Walking on Knives shares a publisher with this work.

Cover Reveal for Walking on Knives

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The little mermaid has no idea that as she makes her way on land, she’s being watched over by the sister of the very witch with whom she made her bargain. She has no idea that the witch’s sister is falling in love with her.

When the prince decides to marry another woman, the little mermaid’s secret helper offers her a chance to live. But the price may be too high…

Read excerpts here and here! Preorder here! Out from Less Than Three Press on July 26th!

July release for Walking on Knives!

My f/f bisexual little mermaid novelette, Walking on Knives, will appear in July this year from Less Than Three Press. Preorder here!

I’m organizing a blog tour and other promotional events, so expect to see more about the story as the release date draws nearer. For today, I’ve got a brand-new excerpt (read a previous one here and add the ebook on Goodreads). Here’s the opening! (warning for dubious consent)

“You wanted this,” the sea-witch murmured. “You made the bargain, you agreed to pay the price.”

The little mermaid nodded mutely. She tried to look everywhere but at the sea-witch: at the crags carved with unconscious artistry by endless waves, at the pale moving lights cast by monsters of the deep, at the black infinity that stretched inward into the bowels of the cave. But tangled black hair and hard scales came between her and the rest of her world.

Sun-starved, chill, she submitted to the sea-witch’s touch.

Ninefox Gambit – Yoon Ha Lee

I expected to like this book more than I did. It had spectacular worldbuilding–based on the principle that “any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic,” but internally consistent. It also featured a deliciously villainous antagonist, a horrific and original dystopian government that nonetheless made sense, and a great character in the allegedly “mad” general, Shuos Jedao. The problem is, Shuos Jedao wasn’t the main character. Kel Cheris was. And Kel Cheris’s development was not, in my opinion, handled properly.

9781781084496_custom-670793563aa4d0d709c7000cd24d2fb6ac956c2c-s300-c85While Cheris does grow and change over the course of the book, we don’t see her internal debates and longings as she does so. Everything is understated to a fault. Cheris is duty-bound and repressed, a character type I usually enjoy, but her point of view doesn’t get far into hidden depths.

That said, I did enjoy the book, even if a lot of it felt like set-up for the trilogy as a whole. There are great twists–pay attention to the inserted “intelligence reports”–and some set-piece scenes as Jedao manipulates Cheris into doing what he wants and as Cheris finds out more about Jedao’s past. I just wish Cheris were more compelling.

The Pearl Thief – Elizabeth Wein

This is going to be a weird review because a comprehensive review of the book would involve cultural/subject matter expertise which I don’t have. Specifically, many characters in this book, though not the protagonist Julie, are Scottish Travellers, and the prejudices they face form a large aspect of the plot. So I’m putting it upfront that I’m not going to review the representation of that culture in this book, because I don’t have sufficient knowledge. I will say that Scottish Traveller author Jess Smith is thanked in the acknowledgements for reviewing the manuscript for Traveller cultural elements.

I’d also like to thank Hyperion for sending me an ARC.

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Unlike Code Name Verity, The Pearl Thief is not presented as a found manuscript, so it is very much franker about sexuality, for example, than Code Name Verity. Julie has two crushes over the course of the book, one on the contractor who is turning her grandfather’s estate into a school, Frank Dunbar, and a more serious one on Ellen McEwen, a proud and prickly Traveller girl with an interest in archaeology and geology. Ellen and Julie never “get together” in the sense of explicitly forming a relationship, but they do clandestinely kiss once under the guise of showing how a man kisses a woman. Julie is clear that her “passion for Ellen” is equivalent to and even deeper than her passion for Frank.

I enjoyed this book actually even more than Code Name Verity, though I missed the character of Maddie (we see in this book how Julie got the nickname “Queenie”). I thought it was more plausible than Code Name Verity and I liked getting inside Julie’s head a bit more and seeing more of her brother Jamie. However, as is usual with Wein’s books, the very ending is fluffed a bit and spells out the epiphanies too much. And while I enjoyed the exploration of class in the book (Julie is an aristocrat, and coming to terms with the privileges that entails), it struck me as a gap in that theme that the only working-class characters were either Travellers or two prejudiced and unsympathetic servants.

As to the mystery element, I figured out who the villain was immediately upon his introduction, but I didn’t predict some of the twists. I also loved a scene which I will put under a cut for mild spoilers.
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Too Like the Lightning – Ada Palmer

81hifvbq-4lI really enjoyed this book, with the exception of two elements, one minor and one tangential to the story but quite troubling in terms of race.

Before I discuss those elements, I want to talk about what I liked, because there is A LOT to like and I do highly recommend this book. The protagonist/narrator, Mycroft Canner, is a fascinating and mysterious character, who is keeping a lot back from the audience, but revealing just enough to tantalize. SPOILERS FOLLOW:
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