Sunday Soupçons #2

Posted 13th March 2022 by Sia in Sunday Soupçons / 0 Comments

soupçon/ˈsuːpsɒn,ˈsuːpsɒ̃/ noun
1. a very small quantity of something; a slight trace, as of a particular taste or flavor

Sunday Soupçons is where I scribble mini-reviews for books I don’t have the brainspace/eloquence/smarts to write about in depth – or if I just don’t have anything interesting to say beyond I LIKED IT AND YOU SHOULD READ IT TOO!

Another three mini-reviews for you this week, including one Contemporary Fiction, one Paranormal Romance/Erotica, and one…I think we’ll have to call it Sci-Fi?

The Book of Firsts (A Very Secret Garden #1) by Karan K. Anders
Goodreads
four-half-stars

Three boys, the 'kings' of the school. One cynical newcomer. An outrageous competition.

When Mika Niles overhears the details of "The Book of Firsts" she's at first bemused, then scornful, then intrigued. Judging which of three very handsome young men is best at kissing, and...?

With no time in her final year for serious attachments, a series of lunchtime trysts is more than tempting – and an opportunity like this might never come her way again. But this light-hearted game is also a scandalous secret, and few can play with fire and walk away unscathed.

I don’t read a lot of contemporary fiction, and I definitely don’t read books about sex, but I took a gamble on The Book of Firsts was written by one of my favourite authors under a new penname, and because she joked that there were almost sixty sex scenes, but that it somehow wasn’t erotica. Which was confusing, but made one hopeful.

And I ended up really loving it! I adored the main character – first-person is usually a turn-off for me, but I loved being inside her head; although I don’t think she’s meant to be autistic, the way her mind works just makes sense to me, and she has a wonderful wry sense of humour and no tolerance for nonsense. The boys grew on me over the course of the book, and I loved the surprise of what their long-term goals and wishes were.

Plot-wise, it’s a sex competition designed to draw one of the boys out of his not-quite-depression, mixed in with low-key school and family drama, and, eventually, the mystery of who’s behind the accidents that are clearly not accidents, but someone out to seriously hurt the boys. That makes it sound very urgent and fast-paced, but it felt escapist and calm and low-stakes the whole way through.

And the sex scenes really don’t manage to turn this into erotica – somehow The Book of Firsts is a book about sex that really isn’t about sex!

Exodus 20:3 by Freydís Moon
Genres: Fantasy, Queer Protagonists
Representation: Queer trans Latino MC, masc nonbinary love interest, M/M or M/NB (depending on your take)
Goodreads
five-stars

Religious eroticism and queer emancipation meet in a claustrophobic monster-romance about divinity, sexuality, and freedom.

When Diego López is guilted by his mother into taking a low-key construction job in New Mexico, he doesn’t expect to be the only helping hand at Catedral de Nuestra Señora de Guadalupe. But the church is abandoned, decrepit, and off the beaten path, and the only other person for miles is its handsome caretaker, Ariel Azevedo.

Together, Diego and Ariel refurbish the old church, sharing stories of their heritage, experiences, and desires. But as the long days turn into longer nights, Diego begins to see past Ariel’s human mirage and finds himself falling into lust—and maybe something else—with one of God’s first creations.

Exodus 20:3, on the other hand, is erotic as hell – or maybe that should be as heaven, given that the love interest is a Biblical-style angel.

Which was one of the main draws for me: I’m just not interested in ‘normal’ erotica, I’m afraid. But offer me a trans Latino lead getting entangled with a Biblical-style angel??? That ticks so many of my boxes I cannot even.

To be honest though, I feel very protective and defensive of this book. It feels like calling it ‘erotica’ belittles it a bit – not because there’s anything wrong with erotica, but because Exodus 20:3 is deep and meaningful, tackling a lot more than some, ahem, niche kinks. Which – don’t get me wrong; the sex is blisteringly well-written and all-around delicious.

But what made me breath catch in my throat was the gentleness, the tenderness, not just from the love interest but that the narrative itself shows Diego, a Latino trans man who does sex work and has gotten in trouble for drugs – he meets Ariel because he’s needs a job, needs to make money to pay his mother back for paying his bail…and, more than the money, needs to do ‘honest’ work to prove to her that he can. Diego is at the centre of a Venn diagram of people the world doesn’t treat gently, so it made my heart ache to see someone like him be…

Well. To see someone like him be loved, honestly. To see someone like him not be condemned for who he is, what he does, or the mistakes he’s made – but get a happy ending instead. A happy ending that isn’t rainbows and cake frosting, but that is meaningful and powerful and made me want to cheer.

Because fuck ICE.

I have a special love for angels – when they’re being portrayed as wondrous or terrifying or both, alien beings rather than humans-plus-wings – and not only does Moon fully deliver on the Biblical-style angel-ness, but I was genuinely impressed and delighted with the worldbuilding. It’s hard to pack a lot of worldbuilding into a novella, but Moon does it quickly and deftly, keeping things deceptively simple and elegant. And I really liked how Moon managed to craft their angels as outside of any particular religion without divorcing them from their religious significance – A++!

And the romance? Ariel and Diego are magnificent, individually and together. Enough said!

Sexy, poignant, heart-warming – Exodus 20:3 has it all, and if you’re open to hell-hot erotica with monsterfuckery, I can’t recommend this one enough! I know I’ll definitely be keeping a close eye out for Moon’s future books.

(The Bible passage Exodus 20:3 is You shall have no other gods before Me, by the way.)

Several People Are Typing by Calvin Kasulke
Genres: Queer Protagonists, Sci Fi, Speculative Fiction
Goodreads
four-stars

A work-from-home, comic tour-de-force that takes place entirely in a PR firm's Slack channels--a strange digital landscape where an employee claims to be literally trapped inside. For fans of Office Space, Then We Came to the End and Severance. And anyone who has ever struggled with an emoticon.

Gerald, a mid-level employee of a New York-based public relations firm, has been uploaded into the company's internal Slack channels--at least his consciousness has. His colleagues assume it's just an elaborate ploy to exploit their lax work-from-home policy, but now that his productivity is through the roof, they are only too happy to indulge him. Disembodied and alarmed by the looming abyss of an eternity on-line, Gerald enlists his co-worker Pradeep to find out what happened to his body and help him escape. As Gerald plunges deeper into the surprisingly expansive Slack landscape, he finds an unlikely ally in Slackbot, Slack's AI assistant, who helps him navigate his new digital reality. Meanwhile, the team's real-world problems are in danger of snowballing out of control. Top client Bjärk dog food might be poisoning Pomeranians across the country; someone is sabotaging the boss's office furniture; Tripp and Beverly are breaking the unspoken rule against office romances; and the incessant howling of wild dogs is starting to drive Lydia insane. Also: Why is Slackbot so interested in Gerald? And what in the hell does the :dusty-stick: emoji mean? Hilarious, irreverent, and wholly original, Calvin Kasulke's Several People Are Typing is a satire of both corporate and contemporary life, and a perfect antidote to the way we live now.

My second read for the Subjective Chaos Kind of Awards went much better than the first! This was addictively readable, easy but still plenty compelling, and I think anyone who’s ever used Slack – especially for work – will get some good laughs out of Several People Are Typing. I was also pleasantly surprised by the queer rep – I had no idea there was going to be any!

A very quick, surprisingly fun read that doesn’t take itself too seriously. Solid four stars!

Have you read any of these, or plan to? Let me know!

four-half-stars

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