An Anniversary, and Upcoming Reading Goals

By: Angie Haddock


Just a short celebratory post here – it’s my one year anniversary of contributing to this blog! So far, I’ve covered a lot of biographies, Advanced Reader Copies, and sci-fi.

I have one more #DiverseSFF review to post next month, and it’s a classic by a queen of the genre: Octavia Butler. And, while I’ve enjoyed my last two “missions,” I want to step back from assigning myself a specific genre for the next six months.

My new goal is going to be to tackle things that are on my TBR list, or books already in my (ever-expanding) inventory. My goal is to tackle at least two a month, although I probably won’t review every read.

I’m also going to read another #SummerClassic this year – or possibly even two, as the one I’m considering is rather short.

How are you tackling your TBR these days? Have you read any classics this year, or are you planning to? Stay tuned to this space, or follow us on Instagram to keep tabs on what we’re reading!


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“The Black God’s Drums” by P. Djèlí Clark – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Creeper, a scrappy young teen, is done living on the streets of New Orleans. Instead, she wants to soar, and her sights are set on securing passage aboard the smuggler airship Midnight Robber. Her ticket: earning Captain Ann-Marie’s trust using a secret about a kidnapped Haitian scientist and a mysterious weapon he calls The Black God’s Drums.

Goodreads


This one was my group’s #DiverseSFF pick for May. After many struggled with “The Brothers Jetstream,” we opted for something short for the next month – this one came in at 111 pages in paperback, or 3 hours 4 minutes on audiobook (I did the audiobook).

This was a fun romp set in an alternate-history version of New Orleans. In this story, the Civil War did not end in the rejoining of the United States, and there continues to be both a Union and Confederacy. However, New Orleans is a free port, where both sovreignties – and many from throughout the Caribbean – can come and go to enact trade. This feels fair for New Orleans, as they tend to consider themselves, culturally, their “own thing.”

One of the things that intrigued me about this one is that I would put it in the realm of steampunk, which I had never delved into before! There are airships, and Captain Ann-Marie has a mechanical leg.

Another fun aspect is that there is a mixture of religious and cultural beliefs that are woven through the story. (Again, totally fair for the ethnic diversity found in real New Orleans.) The main characters believe in orisha, which are a pantheon of gods and goddesses brought from African tribes to the New World. Our two main characters, Creeper and Ann-Marie, are imbued with special characteristics of two, Oya and Oshun.

And yet, they rely on some Catholic nuns for information.

Another interesting aspect in here is that The Black God’s Drums are actually an invention that allows the user to manipulate the weather. I know that in steampunk, we’re dealing with some theoretical contraptions, but this whole idea made me think of the current debate on geoengineering.

Overall, this was a fun, quick romp through a very diverse and lush alternate version of an already diverse and lush city. If you’re interested in mixing old traditions with outlandish science fiction inventions, you would definitely enjoy it.


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“The Tea Dragon Tapestry ” by Katie O’Neill – Review

BY: ANGIE HADDOCK


“Join Greta and Minette once more for the heartwarming conclusion of the award-winning Tea Dragon series!”

Goodreads


I had been seeing the illustrations from this series floating around on some bookish sites for a bit, and thought it looked cute. When I got the chance to preview this new installment, I took it! First, since this is the third in a series, I eagerly devoured the first two through Hoopla. Then, I read the galley of this one, “The Tea Dragon Tapestry,”distributed from Oni Press.

All the reviews and blurbs I had seen about the series used the term “charming,” and it’s actually apt here. Katie O’Neill is both the writer and illustrator. The world she’s created is full of diversity – main characters are of various genders, roles, colors, abilities, and even species. But it’s also full of tradition. Characters learn trades from their elders, and interact with dragons who have centuries-long lifespans. The major themes within the series include friendship and family, finding your path/place, learning, and caring for others.

The illustrations are warm and rich. Each story takes place over a period of time, and often different color schemes are used to denote the season or place of different threads within the story. There are sweeping vistas, character shots, and pictures of everyday home life. Even the margins are often filled with little doodles and details.

In the first book, we meet main characters Greta and Minette, who are just learning to take care of some tea dragons. Hesekiel and Erik are their teachers in this endeavor.

In the second book, we step back in time to when Hesekiel and Erik are a bit younger, and have not yet settled into their home that we saw in the first book. They are traveling, and visit Erik’s home village. We meet his niece, Rinn, and a full-sized dragon, Aedhan.

In the third book, we are back in the village where Hesikiel and Erik are settled down and teaching Greta and Minette about tea dragons. But Rinn (now an adult) and Aedhan also come to visit here. Since this book is the final one, it’s nice that we can check in on the characters from both of the previous books.

The main threads of this story, however, focus on Minette and Greta. In Minette’s case, she is haunted by her past – which she only can remember in vague glimpses. At first she is frustrated with the feeling that she isn’t living the life she had started before. Eventually, she accepts that both her past and her present are important parts of her path.

In Greta’s case, she is trying to impress a blacksmith that she wants to apprentice for. At the same time, she is trying to bond with her tea dragon, who is depressed and not eating. She decides to make the dragon its own bowl, with her name and a cool design on it. The blacksmith is ultimately impressed that she chose to use her craft to communicate with another being, instead of making a battle instrument, and agrees to teach her.

The story ends with a little epilogue from Hesekiel, who is relieved that the girls are carrying on the tradition of caring for the tea dragons – an art he was afraid would be lost over time.

These three graphic novels are aimed at a middle grade audience, so they are fairly easy reads. But, they are a great respite for times when the world feels harsh. I would definitely recommend them if you need a little pick-me-up.

“The Tea Dragon Tapestry” was originally supposed to be published in October, 2020. It was delayed due to a printing issue, however, and is now releasing on June 1, 2021.


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[Exclusive Excerpt] Tryst Six Venom by Penelope Douglas

By: Brittany Lewis

Hello!

Today I’m excited to share with you an Exclusive Excerpt from one of my newest favorite authors, Penelope Douglas. Her newest book “Tryst Six Venom” comes out June 3rd.

Click the link to read this excerpt today: http://bit.ly/ExclusiveExcerptPenDouglasTSV

Also! Check out Chapter 1 too —> https://bit.ly/3fpDVZT

Pre-order—> https://linktr.ee/penelope.douglas

Or read it free on Kindle Unlimited June 3rd!

🌴Pinterest Storyboard—> https://bit.ly/3eW1wzU
🌴Spotify Playlist—> https://spoti.fi/33cgJr2

A𝒘𝒂𝒚 𝒈𝒂𝒎𝒆𝒔, 𝒃𝒂𝒄𝒌 𝒔𝒆𝒂𝒕𝒔, 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒕𝒉𝒆 𝒍𝒐𝒄𝒌𝒆𝒓 𝒓𝒐𝒐𝒎 𝒂𝒇𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒉𝒐𝒖𝒓𝒔… 𝑮𝒆𝒕 𝒓𝒆𝒂𝒅𝒚!

𝘾𝙇𝘼𝙔

Marymount girls are good girls. We’re chaste, we’re untouched, and even if we weren’t, no one would know, because we keep our mouths shut.

Not that I have anything to share anyway. I never let guys go too far. I’m behaved.

Beautiful, smart, talented, popular, my skirt’s always pressed, and I never have a hair out of place. I own the hallways, walking tall on Monday and dropping to my knees like the good Catholic girl I am on Sunday.

That’s me. Always in control.

Or so they think. The truth is that it’s easy for me to resist them, because what I truly want, they can never be. Something soft and smooth. Someone dangerous and wild.

Unfortunately, what I want I have to hide. In the locker room after hours. In the bathroom stall between classes. In the showers after practice. 𝑀𝑦 ℎ𝑒𝑎𝑑 𝑠𝑤𝑖𝑚𝑚𝑖𝑛𝑔. 𝑀𝑦 ℎ𝑎𝑛𝑑 𝑢𝑝 ℎ𝑒𝑟 𝑠𝑘𝑖𝑟𝑡.

For me, life is a web of secrets. No one can find out mine.

𝙊𝙇𝙄𝙑𝙄𝘼

I cross the tracks every day for one reason—to graduate from this school and get into the Ivy League. I’m not ashamed of where I come from, my family, or how everyone at Marymount thinks my skirts are too short and my lipstick is too red.

Clay Collins and her friends have always turned up their noses at me. The witch with her beautiful skin, clean shoes, and rich parents who torments me daily and thinks I won’t fight back.

At least not until I get her alone and find out she’s hiding so much more than just what’s underneath those pretty clothes.

The princess thinks I’ll scratch her itch. She thinks she’s still pure as long as it’s not a guy touching her.

I told her to stay on her side of town. I told her not to cross the tracks.

But one night, she did. And when I’m done with her, she’ll never be pure again.

*TRYST SIX VENOM is a standalone, new adult, bully romance suitable for readers 18+. It will release directly into Kindle Unlimited! 

“The Brothers Jetstream: Leviathan” by Zig Zag Claybourne – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Saving the world one last damn time. When the Brothers Jetstream and their crew seize the chance to rid the world of the False Prophet Buford other evils decide they want a piece of him too. A wild race ensues to not only destroy Satan’s PR man…but make sure no one else gets to him first. Mystic brothers. Secret cabals. Fae folk in Walmart — and the whale that was poured into the oceans when the world first cooled from creation. Adventure doesn’t need a new name. It needs a vacation.

Goodreads


This was the April selection for my group #DiverseSFF read, and… I think I was the only person to actually finish it.

I really wanted to like this one – and at some points, I did. But I admittedly had to push myself to stay with it at times.

The first thing that stood out was the language. The book has its own rhythm, or way of speaking. It’s not just that the characters speak in this rhythm, in the dialogue, but the entirety of the book is written in it. At first, it was fun and different. But after a while, it wore on me. This could very well just be my own mental state – I wasn’t feeling it as much as I thought I would.

(I think the author is hilarious on Twitter, but maybe the patois is more entertaining in shorter doses.)

Most of my fellow readers, however, seemed to struggle with the story. We jump right into the characters and action without much explanation. While this can be a challenge, we’ve dealt with this before (most recently, in “The City We Became“). Because the characters talk fast, and throw in all sorts of references to other things that have happened, it can be difficult to mentally tie all the things together. However, as I stuck with the story, and got more acquainted with the characters, this mostly resolved itself. Even if I didn’t have the clearest picture of what happened before, I was now tracking the most recent events – the ones within the book – and had a full picture of those. So I didn’t let it weigh me down. And, around the half way mark, they finally offer some exposition!

The story involves a diverse crew of “Agents of Change” who are trying to stop a big baddy named Buford, who may or may not have been responsible for the death of one of their crewmates. The action takes them to Atlantis, which is a real place.

Our main characters are the Brothers Jetstream of the title: Milo and Ramses. We also meet characters who are immortal (or close), vampires, Atlantideans, clones; people who can teleport, who can jump into different realities, who can communicate telepathically, and who can communicate with creatures of the sea.

To that end, we meet Leviathan about a quarter into the book. He is an ancient beast who lives in the Atlantic and is massive in both size and psychic ability. At this point, he appears pretty briefly, but he comes back for the final battle later.

I would call this fantasy – maybe even urban fantasy? – more than sci-fi. The action takes place on Earth, present day, but involves a lot of creatures and concepts that are generally thought to be fictitious (like the city of Atlantis, or vampires). There are some fun bits here and there – good lines of dialogue, colorful characters. As I said, I did like it in parts. But overall, it felt like it was trying to throw too many things at you at once.


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“Twice a Daughter” by Julie Ryan McGue – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Julie is adopted. She is also a twin. Because their adoption was closed, she and her sister lack both a health history and their adoption papers―which becomes an issue for Julie when, at forty-eight years old, she finds herself facing several serious health issues.

Julie’s search for her birth relatives spans years and involves a search agency, a PI, a confidential intermediary, a judge, an adoption agency, a social worker, and a genealogist. By journey’s end, what began as a simple desire for a family medical history has evolved into a complicated quest―one that unearths secrets, lies, and family members that are literally right next door.

Goodreads


The Goodreads description gives away the entire plot of this memoir, really… but of course, there are tons of juicy details and emotional entanglements within the pages.

When the story begins, Julie is actually resistant to the idea of trying to find her birth parents. She is largely afraid of rocking the boat with the parents who raised her. Her husband, Steve, pushes her into starting this journey, though – for her own health, and that of their four children.

She gets her twin sister to agree to split the costs with her, but Julie is going to be the person doing the work. Her dad is supportive from the beginning, but her mom is not.

While initially interested only in medical histories, Julie becomes more engrossed in the emotional aspects of her search – wondering why her birth parents gave her up, if they’ll want to meet, and whether or not she has half-siblings.

Even after trying to obtain her original birth certificate, she hits one road block after another. The first one is a big one: Her mom used an alias on her original birth certificate, and the father isn’t listed at all. Apparently this was easier to do back in the 1950s.

Working in her favor, as far as the records are concerned, is that she is a twin. There could only be so many sets of twins born on a given day at a given hospital, right?

Also working in her favor are a lot of sympathetic people within the courts, Catholic Charities, and other avenues Julie tries to reach out to for help. In addition, the family members she eventually locates often bristle at the intrusion at first – but then soften because they have adopted members of their current families, and can understand the issues from both sides.

The issues at play are, of course, the birth parents’ rights to privacy versus the adoptees’ rights to know their history.

Most of Julie’s search takes place around a decade ago. She and her sister do use a DNA-testing kit to see if that gets them any leads, but to no avail. I have to imagine that the increase in use of such sites (and kits) in recent years is now shaking up the implied privacy that birth parents assumed they had in earlier eras.

(Backlist bump on that topic: “Inheritance” by Dani Shapiro.)

Overall, this was a good read. Not too heavy, but it can tug at the heartstrings here and there. It might be even more emotional for you if you’ve gone through something similar.

This book comes out today from She Writes Press, and I was able to read an Advance Reader’s Copy through Books Forward.


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“Project Hail Mary” by Andy Weir – Review

By: Angie Haddock


Ryland Grace is the sole survivor on a desperate, last-chance mission–and if he fails, humanity and the earth itself will perish.

Except that right now, he doesn’t know that. He can’t even remember his own name, let alone the nature of his assignment or how to complete it.

Goodreads


This is the third official full-length novel from Andy Weir, who is mostly known for having written “The Martian.” (Even if you didn’t read that one, you may have seen the Matt Damon movie version.)

If you’re familiar with Weir’s other works, you will find this to fit right in. It’s heavy on science (and math), and comes in just under 500 pages. It also focuses on a character who needs grit and ingenuity to survive his circumstances, and it’s full of humorous asides.

The actual plot is entirely different than that of “The Martian” or “Artemis,” obviously, but how much can I tell you without being spoiler-y?

The story goes back and forth between what Grace is doing on his spaceship, the Hail Mary, and what happened on Earth before the ship’s launch. In these flashbacks, both Grace and the audience learn what his mission is, and why he’s involved.

That second part turns out to be a bigger deal than you’d think. More on that later.

We learn that our sun is being attacked by a small organism that humans name “Astrophage.” It’s reducing the sun’s energy/light output, which puts Earth on track for catastrophe in approximately 26 years. (Even a slight reduction in the Earth’s temperature will cause crop failures in some areas, leading to collapses of food chains and extinction of various species. It’s like current discussions of climate change, except with everything getting colder.)

Grace is a junior high biology teacher. So how does he end up on a space mission? We learn first how he got involved in researching astrophage, which makes slightly more sense. As the preparations ramp up for figuring out how to deal with the astrophage problem, Grace stays with the team determining what to do next. At this point, he knows more about astrophage than anyone else, so this still makes sense. We don’t learn how he actually ends up on the ship until we’re 80% through the book, and… it’s a total gut punch.

While this mystery keeps you guessing in the flashbacks, the real joy of the book happens in the segments on the ship. Grace has traveled to another solar system that seems to also have astrophage present, to see what’s happening there and if it can help Earth in any way. He’s been asleep for most of the trip, but now has to find what he’s looking for – once he remembers what that is. This is not as lonely and boring as one might think, but I don’t want to give away what happens. Let’s just say it’s fun, sometimes heartbreaking, and ultimately pretty awesome.

I am a classic right-brained person who is not great at science-y things, therefore I took this one kind of slowly. I didn’t look up the things he was talking about, to try to understand the science behind it. I know Weir is known for doing a good job with this stuff, overall, despite fictionalizing where needed. I just kicked back and enjoyed the ride. And it’s totally one you can enjoy, if you like science fiction at all.

This is sure to be another blockbuster under Weir’s belt, and it comes out today, May the Fourth. I was able to read an advanced copy through the publisher, Random House, and Netgalley.

Also, if you’re a fan of Andy Weir, check out this interview on Goodreads.


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Libi’s Library

By: Angie Haddock

I know social media gets a bad rep sometimes – it can definitely be a drain on our brain power, right? But somedays, I am amazed at the wonderfulness I randomly come across! Such is the case with Libi’s Library, which came to my attention through Instagram.

Elizabeth “Libi” Jane Upshaw died on March 21, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Libi loved playing piano, snuggling her pomeranians, growing plants, drinking coffee, phone calls with her daughter, relaxing on the back porch with her husband and most of all, cutting hair. When it came to hair styling, Libi was one of the best in the business for over 40 years.

Libi also loved reading books! Her favorites were mystery and thriller. Over the years, she collected hundreds of books and enjoyed sharing them with others. She even kept a “library” in the back of her salon for her friends to check out.

Her daughter, Mallory, says that what most people don’t realize about her mom is “how incredibly brave, strong, and selfless she was. She was diagnosed with small-cell carcinoma in July 2018. We suspect she had been sick for some time prior to that but she had spent the last several years caring for her dad who lived in a nursing facility with Alzheimer’s. She rarely missed a day to visit him… She continued to work as much as she could until about a month before she died. In fact, she was on hospice and very frustrated with me because I ‘wouldn’t let her work.’ “

After her death, Libi’s husband kept her hardcover books. Mallory inherited the paperbacks – to the tune of 1,147 books. She says, “I was devastated about the idea of them sitting in a box in my garage. However, I also knew that it wasn’t realistic space-wise for me to unpack and keep them.” So Mallory and her friends came up with Libi’s Library, as a way to share Libi’s love of reading.

People who hear about the books can contact Mallory through the website, or on social media. She ships books to them, with the understanding that the books will be distributed to local Little Free Libraries in the area. She usually sends about 10-20 books in a shipment and has books currently in 21 states. She hopes to have sent books to all 50 states by the end of the year. She has also received permission to start a Little Free Library at a local bakery near her house, so she’ll have her own location to keep stocked.

All the books have stickers on them telling Libi’s story. Libi’s books also have a gold star sticker. Mallory explains: “I would love to be able to continue to collect and share books in her memory even after all of her books are distributed, but I wanted a way to identify which ones were actually hers.”

Be sure to follow along with Libi’s Library on Instagram and Facebook, so you can see all the places her books travel! If you find a book of Libi’s in your local Little Free Library, post about it and share the story. And if you’re around Nashville, keep an eye out for the books I’m dropping off in the area.

“I Hope You Get This Message” by Farah Naz Rishi – Review

By: Angie Haddock


When news stations start reporting that Earth has been contacted by a planet named Alma, the world is abuzz with rumors that the alien entity is giving mankind only few days to live before they hit the kill switch on civilization.

Goodreads


This is a fast, fun YA read. The author is Pakistani-American, and I read this in March for my monthly diverse SFF read.

We are introduced to three main characters, and the chapters alternate between focusing on one of the three. Cate Collins, Jesse Hewitt, and Adeem Khan are all in their late teens. Cate hails from San Francisco, and has spent her life caring for her schizophrenic mom. Adeem lives in Carson City, and is more obsessed with his amateur radio hobby than doing his school work – much to his parents’ dismay. Jesse lives in Roswell, where he and his mom are barely scraping by.

Earth translates a signal discovered in space, and learns that a race from another planet – which humans name Alma – is putting humanity on trial, and determining its fate within the next seven days.

Much of the world devolves into chaos after this news sinks in. Looting is rampant, people trying to escape cities cause major traffic jams everywhere, and cell towers stop working.

But within this chaos, many people also start trying to reach estranged family members or other loved ones. Cate’s mom tasks her with finding her father – who never even knew of Cate’s existence. Adeem sets out to find his older sister, who ran away two years ago after coming out to her family and fearing they would not accept her. As tourists flood Roswell, Jesse stays put, and sees this turn of events as a way to make some money off people who are looking for hope.

Jesse’s dad was a failed inventor, and even though he passed away years ago, many of his materials are still gathering dust in their shed. So Jesse builds a “machine” to send messages to Alma. People line up to send messages, and Jesse makes decent money. He thinks he’s lying to people, and ripping them off. But a new kid in town sees it differently, and thinks Jesse is giving people hope, which is the only thing they really need.

Inevitably, these three stories start coming together. (I don’t even consider this a spoiler – by about 20% in, you figure out that they’re all going to end up in Roswell.)

Most of the book deals with the issues these kids are facing, and the interpersonal relationships between them and their families, friends, etc. But there are interstitial bits featuring the aliens, as well. The friends I read this with debated whether this was really “sci-fi,” since it was mostly teen drama. While I agreed that the bulk of the book falls more under that Young Adult scope, I can’t say it’s not sci-fi when there are actual aliens in it. Those parts may be small, but still – aliens.

And I will also argue that most good sci-fi is meant to examine the humans, anyway, right?


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