The Kiss Quotient

“I know you hate surprises, Stella.

A romance involving a poc love interest and a protagonist with Asperger’s; look at the genre entering the twenty-first century!

I know romance is (usually) frowned upon, but looking at it (this and fantasy), it might be the category that gives room most easily to someone other than the white heterosexuals. Good for them, good for us.

Stella is on the spectrum, and after another push of her parents with regards to dating she decides to approach sex and romantic relationships the way she does everything else: fully logical and mathematical. That includes hiring an escort and To Do lists to tick off.

But of course! Lust and love happens, and both are described in delicious ways. The only sour note in the entire story is Michael’s actions near the end of the story; they could have prospered with a better motivation and/or argumentation for accepting it. Don’t let that keep you from a lovely, sexy romance.

The Kiss Quotient, Helen Hoang, Penguin Random House 2018

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows

Why did Mindi want an arranged marriage?

And yes, the erotic stories are shared.  Just because of the title, I expected comedy, some coming of age and Learning Life’s Lessons, but I got much more. It’s a credit to Jaswal’s writing that I wasn’t disappointed by that, sooner the opposite.

Yes, there’s definitely comedy, and main character Nikki (Mindi’s sister) needs to discover what she wants to do in live and how she’ll do that without hurting her Punjabi family (and surroundings, in a way). This is definitely a story about the two lives immigrants/children of immigrants live, but it’s never just that. Nikki thinks she’s going to teach the widows Creative Writing, the widows prefer to share their creativity in another way.

Alongside that is a plot line that at first might feel tacked on. Missing girls, bitter feuds, really? But then it all starts to connect and this isn’t just a comedy any more, this is an all too realistic calling card to look at misogyny. Suddenly the tempo is picked up and the reader has to juggle several plot lines colliding.

But as mentioned before, Balli Kaur Jaswal does it well. Making this novel all-round entertaining and informing.

Erotic Stories for Punjabi Widows, Balli Kaur Jaswal, Harper Collins 2017

The Painted Boy

The boy had finally fallen asleep.

I’m pretty sure the last time I read a Charles de Lint novel was before I started this blog, but Widdershins impressed me so much that from time to time I’d still check if I could find more of his in my libraries. The Painted Boy is clearly for younger audiences, providing a more accessible but less eerie, dream like and wonderful story (if those aren’t nostalgia goggles).

The Painted Boy from the title is Jay Li, a teenager that has a large dragon on his back (not tattooed) and is sent off to unfamiliar territory to finish his studies. Jay is part dragon, and will have to do something he won’t know until he’ll experience/see/know it.

Good thing (“”) he ends up in a town held hostage by different kinds of gangs. Of course he has to learn to become one with the dragon and his surroundings, but hey, all this was part of the learning curve, after all.

The magical elements add the necessary spice, else it would have been an oatmeal kind of story: okay for everyone, but nobody’s first pick.

The Painted Boy, Charles De Lint, Viking 2010

Trouble is a Friend of Mine

Of course I didn’t like Digby when I first met him.

I never read a Nancy Drew novel (I think), but I’m pretty sure this could be the more reluctant, twenty-first century version of one. Protagonist Zoe mentions it as well, so I’m definitely onto something.

After the divorce of her parents, Zoe moves to a small town where’s she pretty quickly adopted by the town’s outcast, Digby. He wants/needs her for his research regarding missing girls. His lack of metaphorical bed manner doesn’t enthuse Zoe a lot at first, but plenty of shenanigans happen for her to slowly come round to his hypotheses.

He’s a weird but appealing fellow, and it’s not like Zoe is surrounded by new friends and an understanding mother. So instead of a high school story, the reader gets a small town detective with character descriptions that Celeste Ng would appreciate.

It’s a quick, smart read. The only thing I’m still unsure about is the ending; this novel is one of the very few cases in which there could have been a few more chapters to round things up a bit more completely.

Trouble is a Friend of Mine, Stephanie Tromly, Penguin Random House Company 2015

The Bear and the Nightingale

It was late winter in Northern Rus’, the air sullen with wet that was neither rain nor snow.

Just like The Hundred Thousand Kingdoms an enthralling, easily accessible fantasy novel, with plenty of room for a cool (literally, in this case) female protagonist. Yay!

With my discovery of the CloudLibrary app (I’m not paid for this), I found a new way to more books. These are Express, so you can only borrow them for a week, meaning I just have to read faster. Alas.

As mentioned before, The Bear and the Nightingale is such an easy read, with only 300+ pages as well, that that time limit wasn’t an issue. It’s a (Russian) fairy tale about fairy tale elements being part of daily life. The young protagonist is too wild and strange for her family, and supports the ‘old’ gods and creatures besides Christianity. When the super religious join her house, things start rolling (into chaos).

I’m fond of reading stories set in Russia, and even though this is a romanticised version of history, it still gives an interesting look at early Moscow and its surroundings. But mostly it’s just a tasty morsel of a fairy tale that – even though it already got a sequel – can definitely stand on its own.

The Bear and the Nightingale, Katherine Arden, Penguin Random Publishing 2017

Little Fires Everywhere

Everyone in Shaker Heights was talking about it that summer: how Isabelle, the last of the Richardson children, had finally gone round the bend and burned the house down.

Writing this review made me feel like reading the book for the second time, consider me a fan of Celeste Ng’s (you pronounce it as ‘ing’) work.

Again it’s a seemingly lovely, decent family of which the image (they project) slowly starts to show cracks. This time it’s literally and figuratively a small town story, and even though something quite big happens, there’s such a subdued, rosy-tinted tone to everything that even the moment when it all boils over, you don’t feel more like a soft ‘huh’. Because it wasn’t inevitable, but mostly because Ng writes in such a way that you’re swaddled, embedded into these lives and can almost feel the possibilities pass left and right. Maybe Izzy (Isabelle) will find her way sooner than later, maybe Mia and daughter Pearl will air out the secrets between them and for once put roots down somewhere. Maybe Mrs. Richardson can become a person again, instead of a connection between others.

So you wait, and hope while things crash and literally burn, while still ending on a high note. Because Celeste Ng is good like that.

Little Fires Everywhere, Celeste Ng, Penguin Publishing 2017

Clariel

Old Marral the fisherman lived in one of the oddest parts of Belisaere, the ancient capital of the Old Kingdom.

I’m pretty sure that Garth Nix is my favourite male fantasy author. Even when I’m a bit ‘hmm’ about some of his stories (for a younger audience), I’ll always appreciate his style and world building. This time it wasn’t any different.

Clariel is part of the The Old Kingdom series, but doesn’t fit into it chronologically. Not having read any of the series for a long while, this was kind of convenient for me. Just remember the necromancy, anything else can be new knowledge.

It being a (kind of) prequel also means that there’s not complete freedom to move and develop. Because of this the reader gets the slice-of-life option, things ending up before the (more) exciting and terrifying.

But I am a Garth Nix fan. I’ll read all of it.

Clariel, Garth Nix, Harper Collins 2014