Romantic Reads · stuff I read

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #2)


Summary from Goodreads:
In this historical f/f romance you’ll find:
•a grumpy widowed engraver working far too hard to keep her print-shop going until her son is old enough to take over
•a middle-aged lady beekeeper who goes striding about in trousers and loves bucolic poetry
•a Queen on trial in Parliament and the press
•luxuriant English gardens with extremely naughty statues
•satirical ballads about tight pants
•… and more than you probably ever wanted to know about early 19th century beekeeping!

Could Olivia Waite outdo herself after The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics? Yes, yes she could.

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is a lovely f/f historical. We met Agatha Griffin at the Royal Academy exhibition in The Lady’s Guide and her print shop handles the printing of Lucy’s Guide. Four years later, Agatha is now a widow, running the shop with her son Sydney and her apprentice Eliza, the gifted young artist who was briefly Lucy’s maid. Griffin’s has their printworks in the nearby village of Melliton, where one odd, beekeeping lady named Penelope Flood resides. When Agatha discovers a swarm of bees who have started making a hive among the plates for a local poet’s book, Mrs. Flood is recommended to her as the person who would know exactly what to do with the bees.

Penelope is rather intrigued by the no-nonsense printer from London. Mrs. Griffin is a world away from Penelope’s rural, beekeeping life in Melliton. The two women start corresponding through letters – because of the bees – but soon strike up a friendship, then perhaps something more. Olivia Waite lets the relationship between Agatha and Penelope develop gradually through these letters, with beekeeping knowledge interspersed between exchanges about their families or friends, weaving a bond between the two women. After a while, Agatha begins to visit Melliton more often, eventually staying with Penelope for Christmas. This is a relationship that develops between two women in their forties – neither are looking for their life’s One Great Passion, they each have established lives – so the realization that they have an emotional bond that goes deeper than friendship is especially poignant.

Being poignant or a lesbian romance does not mean this book soft-pedals the plot. The book is set largely in the year between King George IV’s attempt to divorce his wife Queen Caroline and his coronation. That bit of British Royal history is largely integral to the development of Penelope and Agatha’s relationship. The printing and sale of political broadsides and raucous ballads in Agatha’s print shop runs afoul of sedition and censorship laws in England at the time, particularly that from the Radical end of politics (you know, the ones that think you should treat people as equals or not trash or actual humans or whatever, and that’s clearly bad for the Establishment). Penelope’s neighbors in Melliton – both the good ones and the rotten ones – are affected by these larger events through the enforcement “morality” in the village and squabbling over an inheritance (just a CW that there is implied homophobia, although that jerk gets his comeuppance). There’s also a lot of between-the-lines commentary on Nice White Ladies (and other people) Doing Virtue Signalling. All this impacts how Penelope and Agatha slowly slide from friendship into love.

This is a Big Plot novel, so it moves a bit more slowly than I expected, but it wraps up so, so wonderfully. Plus there’s all the stuff about bees. And Penelope’s circle of wonderful friends in Melliton. And Sydney and Eliza and their relationship. Just go read it.

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is out today!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Would I Lie to the Duke by Eva Leigh (Union of the Rakes #2)


Summary from Goodreads:
When an ambitious entrepreneur pretends to be a lady of means, she catches the eye—and heart—of a duke…

Jessica McGale’s family business desperately needs investors, and she’s determined to succeed at any cost. But she knows London’s elite will never look twice at a humble farm girl like herself. Posing as “Lady Whitfield,” however, places her in the orbit of wealthy, powerful people—most notably the Duke of Rotherby. His influence and support could save her company, but Jess never expected the effect he’d have on her.

Society thinks Noel is a notorious, carefree duke who dabbles in investments, but there’s a side to him that only his closest friends see. When he crosses paths with Lady Whitfield at a business bazaar, his world tilts on its axis. She’s brilliant and compelling, and brings him to his knees like no woman has before. Trust is difficult for Noel, but Jess makes him believe anything is possible…

As time ticks down on her Cinderella scheme, the thought of achieving her goal at Noel’s expense breaks Jess’ heart. He doesn’t just want her now, he wants her forever. But will her secret end their future before it begins?

Two books into The Union of the Rakes series and Eva Leigh is two for two – solid, sexy Regencies with great eighties movie influences (The Union of the Rakes = The Breakfast Club, you’re welcome 😉 )

Would I Lie to the Duke is a Regency twist on Working Girl (LOVE): a working woman who on the spur of the moment pretends to be a Lady to access a gathering of investors to save her family’s luxury soap-making business and a Duke who is mesmerized by her whip-smart business acumen (and ability to see through all his ducal nonsense to the man underneath). Jess walks such a tightrope in her scenes. She has to pretend to be an investor but then also maybe talk up this fabulous soap that’s so hard to find in London without getting outed as a party crasher and/or an impostor. Rotherby, for all that he’s rich and suave and a rake (he gives the “rake lessons” in My Fake Rake), is kind of tired of the game. He needs a challenge. He gets one.

Rotherby and Jess are absolute fire together. When we start getting sexytimes we find out they’re also fantastic dirty talkers (whew!) and Rotherby is a bit of a submissive. Like, he’s more sub than a beta. Duke in the streets, sub in the sheets. I loved it.

Leigh has also seeded social media jokes into this book and it is delightful. The scenes at this investor session are also really interesting with many projects that you see are the beginnings of modern technology or products that we have now. I really hope Lady Farris have her own happy ending next. She had a good introduction in My Fake Rake and this book lets us see more of her character and how free she is now that she’s a widow. I’d also like to see the last two Rakes be the final couple in this series – I felt like there were heavy hints that perhaps they are attracted to each other and I’d be interested to see that play out.

Would I Lie to the Duke is out tomorrow, July 28! (Check out that beautiful cover!)

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

stuff I read

The Reading Rush is an excellent book-hangover cure

After reading Mexican Gothic I had a pretty bad reading hangover. So when I saw something about The Reading Rush (which used to be Booktubeathon, but expanded to allow non-YouTube people to participate) I decided to jump in this year and see if that would break my hangover.

Well, I think I might be cured (at least temporarily). From Monday July 20 through today (July 26) I have finished:

The Hapsburgs by Martyn Rady (out August 25)
The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho
The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo
Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey
Pleasure of a Dark Prince by Kresley Cole
Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings
Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (out August 4)
Demon from the Dark by Kresley Cole
Dreams of a Dark Warrior by Kresley Cole
Lothaire by Kresley Cole
Shadow’s Claim by Kresley Cole

And I’m about to finish MacRieve by Kresley Cole (yeah, you read that right – SIX Immortals After Dark novels, I haven’t shotgunned a series like this in years).

Hangover, handled.

mini-review · stuff I read

Flyaway by Kathleen Jennings

Summary from Goodreads: “Kathleen Jennings’ prose dazzles, and her magic feels real enough that you might even prick your finger on it.”–Kelly Link

“Half mystery, half fairy tale, all exquisitely rendered and full of teeth.”–Holly Black

In a small Western Queensland town, a reserved young woman receives a note from one of her vanished brothers–a note that makes question her memories of their disappearance and her father’s departure.

A beguiling story that proves that gothic delights and uncanny family horror can live–and even thrive–under a burning sun, Flyaway introduces readers to Bettina Scott, whose search for the truth throws her into tales of eerie dogs, vanished schools, cursed monsters, and enchanted bottles. Flyaway enchants you with the sly, beautiful darkness of Karen Russell and a world utterly its own.

Gothic fairy tale meets Australian outback in Kathleen Jennings’s novella Flyaway. It almost reads as a set of connected short stories packed into this frame of trying to figure out what actually happened to Bettina’s father and brothers. I felt like echoes of fairy tales were licking around the edges of my memory while reading this book. So much of this book shifts back and forth as Bettina learns more – is this town set in a modern world? Or several decades ago? Or perhaps a dystopic world? Or not. Is Bettina a reliable narrator or not? Why are she and her mother near-pariahs in this town, but yet not? The mystery of this setting is so intriguing.

And look at that cover! Flyaway is out on Tuesday, July 28!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley.

mini-review · stuff I read

Upright Women Wanted by Sarah Gailey

Summary from Goodreads: In Upright Women Wanted, award-winning author Sarah Gailey reinvents the pulp Western with an explicitly antifascist, near-future story of queer identity.

“That girl’s got more wrong notions than a barn owl’s got mean looks.”

Esther is a stowaway. She’s hidden herself away in the Librarian’s book wagon in an attempt to escape the marriage her father has arranged for her–a marriage to the man who was previously engaged to her best friend. Her best friend who she was in love with. Her best friend who was just executed for possession of resistance propaganda.

The future American Southwest is full of bandits, fascists, and queer librarian spies on horseback trying to do the right thing.

Genderqueer and lesbian librarians in an alternative southwest United States? Sure! Sarah Gailey is a flipping genius at building a world without stopping to tell you all about it. Upright Women Wanted is a book set in a dystopic Southwestern United States where travelling Librarians with horses and wagons deliver “approved” materials to isolated towns. Main character Esther stows away with a Librarian convoy after her best friend – who she may also have had romantic feelings for – is hanged for possession of “unapproved” materials. When she’s discovered, the Librarians put her to work. And Esther discovered a lot about her world and her place in it. If you’re looking for a Western but need something different, this will hit a lot of buttons.

I signed up for the Reading Rush readathon this week since I’d been having serious book hangover from Mexican Gothic a few weeks ago and it’s working. I’ve finished four books so far, three of them excellent fantasy novellas from so A+ self!

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Empress of Salt and Fortune by Nghi Vo (The Singing Hills Cycle #1)

Summary from Goodreads: With the heart of an Atwood tale and the visuals of a classic Asian period drama, Nghi Vo’s The Empress of Salt and Fortune is a tightly and lushly written narrative about empire, storytelling, and the anger of women.

A young royal from the far north, is sent south for a political marriage in an empire reminiscent of imperial China. Her brothers are dead, her armies and their war mammoths long defeated and caged behind their borders. Alone and sometimes reviled, she must choose her allies carefully. Rabbit, a handmaiden, sold by her parents to the palace for the lack of five baskets of dye, befriends the emperor’s lonely new wife and gets more than she bargained for. At once feminist high fantasy and an indictment of monarchy, this evocative debut follows the rise of the empress In-yo, who has few resources and fewer friends. She’s a northern daughter in a mage-made summer exile, but she will bend history to her will and bring down her enemies, piece by piece.

Praise for The Empress of Salt and Fortune

“An elegant gut-punch, a puzzle box that unwinds itself in its own way and in its own time. I cannot recommend it highly enough. Gorgeous. Cruel. Perfect. I didn’t know I needed to read this until I did.”–Seanan McGuire

“A tale of rebellion and fealty that feels both classic and fresh, The Empress of Salt and Fortune is elegantly told, strongly felt, and brimming with rich detail. An epic in miniature, beautifully realised.”–Zen Cho

I missed The Empress of Salt and Fortune when it published earlier this year, so I snagged a paper copy to read. This was such a surprising read! The world-building is so rich without pausing to tell the reader about it. It’s so skillfully sketched in through the interactions of Chih, a cleric who functions much like an archivist and anthropologist, Almost Brilliant, their accompanying niexin, and Rabbit, an elderly woman who slowly relates her tale of exile with the Empress. The way the little list of objects at the head of each chapter led into that little bit of story from Rabbit was so clever – like a little anthropology before a history lesson. It’s such an inclusive and feminist story.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.

mini-review · stuff I read

The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho

Summary from Goodreads: Zen Cho returns with a found family wuxia fantasy that combines the vibrancy of old school martial arts movies with characters drawn from the margins of history.

A bandit walks into a coffeehouse, and it all goes downhill from there. Guet Imm, a young votary of the Order of the Pure Moon, joins up with an eclectic group of thieves (whether they like it or not) in order to protect a sacred object, and finds herself in a far more complicated situation than she could have ever imagined.

I’ve had a book hangover since Mexican Gothic so I decided to join The Reading Rush this week to try and kick myself back into reading. (The Reading Rush used to be Booktubeathon, fyi.)

I decided to start by picking off a few recent Tor novellas I hadn’t got to, yet, starting with The Order of the Pure Moon Reflected in Water by Zen Cho. This is a wuxia-inspired, found family, queernormative road trip tale. Super fun! So you get all the squabbles that occur between family members, plus some action (there’s a war on), plus maybe someone stole something?, plus maybe feelings. The theme that runs deeper in this novella is what faith and the practice of faith means to those who believe.

I hope we get some more adventures of Guet Imm and Tet Sang. This is definitely a story that leaves room to continue, but has a nice ending if that never happens.

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss.

mini-review · stuff I read

How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats by Andrew Marttila

Summary from Goodreads: A fun and practical guide to taking the perfect pics of your cat from the photographer of Cats on Catnip — a great gift for the feline fanatic in your life.
If you or someone you know loves a cat, chances are they love taking pictures of their cat, too. But cats can be tricky little guys to photograph — they move quickly when you want them to stay still and are sedentary logs when you’re going in for an action shot. Add to that all the variables of shooting indoors vs. outdoors, and it can be a difficult job.
Enter How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats, where professional cat photographer and popular Instagrammer Andrew Marttila (Cats on Catnip, Shop Cats of New York) walks you through all the steps you need to know to take perfect photos of your favorite feline. This lighthearted, gifty guide includes dozens of photos and shares practical information for both amateur photographers and experts alike, all told in a fun, accessible, and lighthearted way.
Whether you’re looking to take better photos with your phone or you’re trying to master the settings on your digital camera, this is the book that tells you everything you need to know to take awesome snaps of cats.

If you follow @kittenxlady (Hannah Shaw) on Instagram, you probably know her partner @iamthecatphotographer (aka Andrew Marttila). He’s a photographer who specializes in taking pictures of cats – so fun – and now he’s distilled some of his tips and tricks into a book, How to Take Awesome Photos of Cats! Marttila has lots of good advice on working with cats and he breaks down photography basics in a really easy-to-understand way, so they can apply to a lot more subjects than just cats. I tried a couple of tips out on the Mittens and it sort of worked (Shakespeare always pounced the toy I was shaking, rather than just look at me, so this may take some practice, haha). Plus there are super-cute pictures of kittens

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book.