Mutterschoß (Elea Brandt)

Mutterschoß (literally: Mother’s Lap) is a novel by Elea Brandt, set in Ghor-el-Chras. It was not (yet) translated into English.
Finished on: 10.6.2021
[I received a copy of this book to review, or, as they say in German, this post is Unbezahlte Werbung.]

Content Note (for this review): ableism, abortion, slavery
[there is a complete list included in the book itself and available at the author’s homepage]

Plot:
Ajeri is a midwife. Since she also performs abortion and is a former slave, her standing is difficult, but she likes her work. One of her clients, Midena, is just about to give birth – hoping it will be finally the heir her husband Bailak, head of the slaver’s guild, has been waiting for. But Midena has been plagued by nightmares recently, and when her labor comes early, everything goes wrong very quickly. Ajeri calls for a doctor to help. To her dismay, it’s Shiran who shows up – arrogant doctor’s apprentice and an old acquaintance of Ajeri. They start fightnig for Midena’s life, but it’s too late for her. The child is alive, but it is not right. Ajeri finds herself on the run, blamed for what happened, while Shiran is tasked by Bailak to figure everything out or risk losing everything himself. Ajeri and Shiran both realize soon that there is a dark force after the pregnant women of the city.

Mutterschoß is a good read with an openly feminist message, which I always appreciate. But I struggled a little with how the book deals with ableism, so I couldn’t love it unreservedly.

(c) Chaos Pony Verlag
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Love Bite (Azure)

Love Bite is a short story by Azure (available here).
Finished on: 10.6.2021

Plot:
Mercy and Brooke have been dating for a while, but recently Brooke has been going through some changes, turning into a vampire due to a genetic condition. Alienated from her own body and unwilling to drink blood, she has been a cause of worry for Mercy. But Mercy has a plan to get her girlfriend back in touch with herself and her needs. All she needs is a bit of creativity and kink.

Love Bite is a kinky short story with a nice sense of humor and really lovely characters. I was a little disappointed that it’s only a short story – I wouldn’t have minded to spend more time with Mercy and Brooke (kinky or otherwise). The two are just a lovely couple and so vividly brought to life in just those few pages. I loved that Mercy is trans and that her body is described so lovingly. I also really enjoyed this take on vampirism and the artful connections that are made between the lore and BDSM. In short, this story is a whole lot of fun. I can only recommend it.

The book cover showing a woman dressed in a blue nightshirt and panties, holding a black tie into which roses are worked. There are bite marks on her inner thigh.

This Is How You Lose the Time War (Amal El-Mohtar, Max Gladstone)

This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epistolary novella by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone.
Finished on: 04.6.2021

Plot:
Red is an agent of the Commandant, Blue is an agent of Garden, two sides in a war that spans all times. It is both Red’s and Blue’s job to make sure that certain events happen or don’t happen in the course of time to benefit their respective sides. After one of these missions, Red finds a letter on the battlefield. A letter from Blue. A letter taunting her. Red hesitates at first, but then replies and the ensuing back-and-forth between two enemy agents turns them into something else.

It took me a bit to get into This is How You Lose the Time War, but once I did, I absolutely loved it. It’s a beautifully written and inventive story that takes you somewhere else.

The book cover showing two birds, one red, one blue, standing with their claws to each other. Both birds are cut in several pieces, with the pieces being slightly out of alignment.
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Shadow and Bone (Leigh Bardugo)

Shadow and Bone is the first novel in the Grisha trilogy by Leigh Bardugo.
Finished on: 31.5.2021

Plot:
Alina and Mal have known each other since they were children, both orphans growing up in the same household. Since neither of them have magical abilities like the Grisha, they are both in the army, but in very different roles: Mal is a tracker, while Alina is a mapmaker. Both of their troops are headed to the Unsea, the Fold a strip of darkness filled with monsters that separates the east of the country from the west and can only be traversed under great risk. When they try to cross it, they are attacked and Alina suddenly discovers that she may have a rare magical ability after all. Upon this discovery, she is whisked away by the Darkling, leader of the Grisha and most powerful of all, to harness her ability – that may just be the key to get rid of the Fold once and for all.

Shadow and Bone is a good read with some nice, albeit under-explored world-building ideas. I may not be entirely excited about it, but I am looking forward to the second book in the trilogy.

The book cover showing a stag shape that seems to be filled with water or blue color on black background.
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The Duchess War (Courtney Milan)

The Duchess War is the first novel in the Brothers Sinister series by Courtney Milan.
Finished on: 23.5.2021
[Here’s my review of the prequel novella.]

Plot:
Minnie has perfected the art of going unnoticed. Afer a scandal forced her to change her name, she had no other choice. Now all she needs is a husband to find some security in her life. Impoverished and with her secret, she doesn’t have much choice. That is why she really can’t have it that none other than the Duke of Clermont, Robert Blaisdell, seems to actually notice her. His curiosity about her is a threat, and Minnie is determined to uncover his secrets first to protect herself. This decision leads both of them down unexpected paths.

The Duchess War is a really sweet book with wonderful protagonists and a good plot that makes good use of the period it is set in. More importantly, it’s easy to root for Millie and Robert and to enjoy their falling in love.

The book cover showing a woman from behind, in a red dress with a huge skirt. She has flowers in her hair.
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Rafe (Rebekah Weatherspoon)

Rafe is the first novel in the Loose Ends series by Rebekah Weatherspoon.
Finished on: 11.5.2021

Plot:
After a hard divorce and a move across the country, Dr. Sloan Copeland has built a new life for herself and her twin daughters. But that life is seriously threatened when she returns home one day from work to find her live-in nanny just up and left. Sloan has to figure something out quickly, and after the last catastrophic nanny, it has to be a very good solution. That’s when a friend recommends Rafe Whitcomb. Rafe has been working as a nanny for a few families and comes highly recommended, even though he – tall, bearded, tattooed – doesn’t necessarily look the part. Rafe was thinking of leaving the nanny life behind, but can’t leave Sloan in a lurch, and the kids take a liking to him fast. That both Sloan and Rafe find each other very attractive could make things more difficult though.

Rafe is a sweet, quick read that I could fall into very well. It may not become an absolute favorite, but I definitely enjoyed the hell out of it.

The book cover showing a red-haired man with a beard and a tattoo of a heart on his neck.
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The Black Flamingo (Dean Atta)

The Black Flamingo is the first novel by Dean Atta, with illustrations by Anshika Khullar.
Finished on: 10.5.2021

Content Note: (critical treatment of) racism, homomisia

Plot:
Michael is a Greek-Cypriot and Jamaican, gay, Black boy in England. Figuring out what that means exactly isn’t easy. Throughout high school, he figures things out together with his best friend Daisy. But it isn’t until university where Michael discovers drag for himself that he really finds answers to the question of who he is.

The Black Flamingo is a novel in verse written for a younger audience about identity, race and sexual orientation. In theory, this sounds like a challenging novel to say the least. In practice, it is a wonderfully easy, touching read that challenges in such a way that you barely notice what it’s doing. It is absolutely fantastic.

The book cover showing the drawing of a young Black man wearing black feathers, cradling a black flamingo. He is surrounded by pink feathers and four pink flamingos.
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Up For Air (Christina Berry)

Up For Air is the first novel in the Lost in Austin series by Christina Berry.
Finished on: 6.5.2021
[I won this book in a LibraryThing Early Reviewer Give Away.]

Plot:
Ari met Greg and Jake when they were just teenagers. Jake became her best friend, and Greg her husband soon after. Ari has left a very shelterd life that way for 12 years, but a funeral causes her to take stock of her life, and the bottom line is that Ari isn’t happy anymore. She feels limited and suffocated by her lack of experiences. So she asks Greg whether they could open their marriage to try new things. To her surprise, Greg agrees and their decision pushes them both on new paths. But where those paths lead, they could not have foreseen.

Up For Air is a really good read with nice characters and a good understanding of what its story is actually writing about. There were a couple of moments where I wanted to get my own editing pen out, to polish things a little more, but other than that, I really enjoyed it.

The book cover showing a pair of discarded chucks and behind them two feet in fishnet stockings, putting on high heels.
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Closing Doors (T.A. Pratt)

Closing Doors is the tenth and final of the Marla Mason novels by T.A. Pratt.
Finished on: 2.5.2021
[Here are my reviews of the rest of the series.]

Plot:
Now that Marla Mason has actually become the God of Death, she needs a mortal companion so the underworld is fully staffed again. But dating as the God of Death when your date is a job interview at the same time isn’t easy. And it’s not like it’s Marla’s only problem: the Bay Witch has called on the favor Marla still owed because there is a mysterious black sand that is threatening the world.

Closing Doors is a really fine ending to a long-running series that I found very satisfying – both the entire series and this particular book in it. I’ll miss Marla and her friends, but with this novel, we got a good good-bye.

The book cover showing a woman with long black hair in a bridal gown sitting on a thorne of ice, thorns and skulls.
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Saints Astray (Jacqueline Carey)

Saints Astray is the second (and last) novel in the Santa Olivia series by Jacqueline Carey.
Finished on: 24.4.2021
[Here’s my review of the first novel.]

Content Note: rape culture, misogyny

Plot:
Loup and Pilar made it out of Outpost 12, aka Santa Olivia – but what are a genetically modified girl and her girlfriend supposed to do when they legally don’t exist at all? Well, in Loup’s case, she quickly has a job offer: to work for an international security firm as the world’s first GMO bodyguard. She agrees, but only if Pilar gets to come, too. Meanwhile, Loup’s old friend Miguel Garza also made it out of Outpost 12 and has promised to testify in front of the senate to shed light on the outposts as well as the GMOs. But nothing is ever as easy as that, is it?

I was so excited about Santa Olivia – I didn’t know what to expect and was wonderfully surprised by what the book delivered. With Saints Astray, unfortunately, it’s quite the opposite. I was expecting so much more, but this is very much a disappointment.

The book cover showing two shadowed women against a red background. One is holding a gun.
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