Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Gentleman Never Keeps Score by Cat Sebastian (Seducing the Sedgwicks #2)

35564594Summary from Goodreads:
Once beloved by London’s fashionable elite, Hartley Sedgwick has become a recluse after a spate of salacious gossip exposed his most-private secrets. Rarely venturing from the house whose inheritance is a daily reminder of his downfall, he’s captivated by the exceedingly handsome man who seeks to rob him.

Since retiring from the boxing ring, Sam Fox has made his pub, The Bell, into a haven for those in his Free Black community. But when his best friend Kate implores him to find and destroy a scandalously revealing painting of her, he agrees. Sam would do anything to protect those he loves, even if it means stealing from a wealthy gentleman. But when he encounters Hartley, he soon finds himself wanting to steal more than just a painting from the lovely, lonely man—he wants to steal his heart.

Content Warning from Author: This book includes a main character who was sexually abused in the past; abuse happens off page but is alluded to.

The squealing that happened when I found the digital galley for A Gentleman Never Keeps Score on Edelweiss….I apologize to everyone in a three-county radius.  I was that excited.  Because I have wanted to read about Sam Fox ever since I read Cat Sebastian’s description of the book on her Twitter.

Sam is an ex-prize-fighter and publican, the owner of The Bell which Sam sees as an integral part of the Free Black community in London. It’s a place to get news, get a hot meal, get a decent drink, and socialize with other members of the small London community. When Sam’s friend (and future sister-in-law and community midwife) Kate asks him to recover a nude painting she posed for as a younger woman in need of money, he agrees. With some trepidation because a Black man caught house-breaking in Regency London would not come to a good ending.

In the course of planning out his house-breaking, Sam runs into Hartley. In the alley behind Hartley’s own Brook Street house – the target of Sam’s mission. Hartley was bequeathed the house from Sir Humphrey Easterbrook (more on this below) and after a series of comical misunderstandings Sam and Hartley get down to business.  The painting.  Which, unfortunately for Sam, is likely no longer in the house because the artwork had been removed from the walls before Hartley took possession.

But this doesn’t mean Sam’s mission is at an end because Hartley would also like to recover a painting from Sir Humphrey’s collection. Hartley allowed himself to be a sort of “kept” man by Sir Humphrey when a teen because it would ensure that his brothers would be able to attend school or university, and not be destitute. And now that Hartley has inherited the house, and a little money, and has the clothes, and the curricle this means his is a gentleman – he feels like what he gave up to Sir Humphrey has been worth it, even the fact that he can’t bear to be touched.  Except that someone has spread a rumor about Hartley’s sexual orientation and now he’s an outcast in Society. If this painting is ever made public, he could lose his life.

So the most unlikely pair begins to work together to find these paintings. They also begin very, very cautiously to work toward each other and find middle ground as a gay, cross-class, bi-racial couple in Regency London. Along the way they create a family of non-Society “outcasts,” from Kate and Nick (and other members of the Black community) to Hartley’s valet/man-of-work Alf, a young gay man, and Sadie, a young unwed mother abandoned by her “respectable” family due to her pregnancy who becomes Hartley’s cook. Hartley’s brothers Ben and Will also pop up (although I was slightly disappointed that Ben did not bring his “sea captain” and the kids).

I love this book. Sam Fox is the sweetest man ever invented, I swear. He’s such a cinnamon roll. Hartley is a wonderfully multi-layered character with the way he uses his privilege to mask his hurt and protect Sam. The way Sam and Hartley actually talk through their issues and misunderstandings is just A+.  Also, there is a scene late in the book that just filled my heart to bursting. (Incidentally, there is also a scene that is so hot that you will need to fan yourself. Holy cannoli. This book gets steamy, y’all, and it’s so well-written.)

Small trigger warning, as the author herself stated in the description, Hartley was abused/coerced as a young man, alluded to in the previous book, It Takes Two to Tumble, and clarified here, but Sebastian does not go into details on the page. Just FYI if you need to know ahead of time.

Now, I am intrigued at all the places Cat Sebastian is going these days.  Her next book, due in the fall, is A Duke in Disguise, about a guy who doesn’t want to be a duke (I think?) and a bookseller who just wants to get on with her publishing business.  And then we get a book the third Sedgwick brother, Will, who is apparently involved with Sir Humphrey’s son Martin and that was a twist I was not expecting (nor was Hartley, who then gave us a hilarious aside wondering about the probability of all the Sedgwick males being gay).

Dear FTC: I read this thing like yesterday once the galley was downloaded on my iPad and I’ve had this pre-ordered on my Nook since that was possible.

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dies · happy dance · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel by Alexander Chee

35721123Summary from Goodreads:
From the author of The Queen of the Night, an essay collection exploring his education as a man, writer, and activist—and how we form our identities in life and in art. As a novelist, Alexander Chee has been described as “masterful” by Roxane Gay, “incomparable” by Junot Díaz, and “incendiary” by the New York Times. With How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, his first collection of nonfiction, he’s sure to secure his place as one of the finest essayists of his generation as well.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is the author’s manifesto on the entangling of life, literature, and politics, and how the lessons learned from a life spent reading and writing fiction have changed him. In these essays, he grows from student to teacher, reader to writer, and reckons with his identities as a son, a gay man, a Korean American, an artist, an activist, a lover, and a friend. He examines some of the most formative experiences of his life and the nation’s history, including his father’s death, the AIDS crisis, 9/11, the jobs that supported his writing—Tarot-reading, bookselling, cater-waiting for William F. Buckley—the writing of his first novel, Edinburgh, and the election of Donald Trump.

By turns commanding, heartbreaking, and wry, How to Write an Autobiographical Novel asks questions about how we create ourselves in life and in art, and how to fight when our dearest truths are under attack.

I will tell you right now that I was in Michael’s buying fancy writing/drawing pens when I got a DM from Rachel Fershleiser (bless you, lovey) asking me if I would like an early galley of Alexander Chee’s new book. Which I had been coveting hardcore. Pretty sure I shrieked out loud in the checkout line.

I have been waiting since DECEMBER to tell y’all about this book.

“To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.” – “On Becoming an American Writer”

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is a collection of essays – some previously published elsewhere, some brand, spanking new – that outline Chee’s development as a writer and provide a peek into his experience growing up as a queer, biracial kid in Maine. Meditative pieces such as “The Curse” and “The Querent” give way to heart-breaking examinations of identity and lost love in “Girls” – a powerhouse essay anthologized in The Best American Essays 2016 – and “After Peter.” (Note: I will never not weep reading “After Peter,” it is sublime.) Chee then takes us on a tour of the Struggling Writer’s Life: jobbing as a yoga teacher, tarot reader, and cater-waiter (“Mr. and Mrs. B”), getting an MFA (“My Parade”), various living arrangements (“Impostor”), and creating a garden (“The Rosary”). At times, he is wry and cheeky in pieces such as “100 Things About Writing a Novel.” And then, if you have read his previous novels Edinburgh and The Queen of the Night, he quietly turns you inside out with “The Autobiography of My Novel” and “How to Write an Autobiographical Novel.” (Side note: if you haven’t read his novels get on that because you are seriously deprived of amazing sentences.) The order of essays builds over the course of the book to a moving examination of what it means to be an American writer, especially at this present time, in “On Becoming an American Writer.” 

Alexander Chee has a gift – he can write sentences that just stick in the mind like tiny bits of grit, to be worked over and polished and revisited.

“That afternoon, I tried to understand if I had made a choice about what to write. But instead it seemed to me if anyone had made a choice, the novel had, choosing me like I was a door and walking through me out into the world.” – “The Autobiography of My Novel”

These are not complex sentences nor filled with over-flowing description but are complex and beautiful in their simplicity. It is such a privilege to read his words. I could read them forever.

How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is out on Tuesday, April 17. Bravo, Alex. Thank you so much for your beautiful book. I look forward to making as many people as possible buy this book.

ETA: I would like to introduce you to another writer, Brandon Taylor, who stans for Alexander Chee even more than I do and writes far more eloquently and intelligently about Chee’s work than I could ever possibly hope to write. Please read his essay about How to Write an Autobiographical Novel, “Sad Queer Books: When You’re a Queer Person of Color, Writing is Tough Yet Vital,” at Them. Keep an eye on Brandon, by the way. He’s going to blow us all out of the water.

Dear FTC: You know I rubbed this galley all over my eyeballs when I got it.  I’ll be buying a copy whenever Alex manages to get himself to Iowa for a reading so I can be weird and awkward in person and gush all over while he signs it (and the galley, too).

mini-review · Reading Diversely · Reading Women · stuff I read

Ascension by Jacqueline Koyanagi (Tangled Axon #1)

18214164Summary from Goodreads:
Alana Quick is the best damned sky surgeon in Heliodor City, but repairing starship engines barely pays the bills. When the desperate crew of a cargo vessel stops by her shipyard looking for her spiritually-advanced sister Nova, Alana stows away. Maybe her boldness will land her a long-term gig on the crew. But the Tangled Axon proves to be more than star-watching and plasma coils. The chief engineer thinks he’s a wolf. The pilot fades in and out of existence. The captain is all blond hair, boots, and ego . . . and Alana can’t keep her eyes off her. But there’s little time for romance: Nova’s in danger and someone will do anything—even destroying planets—to get their hands on her!

Jenn at Get Booked also has recommended Ascension multiple times. So when I had a hankering for a space opera, I remembered that I had this on my nook.

Koyanagi created an intriguing world both inside and outside the transport ship Tangled Axon. Ascension itself as a book is somewhere between a three and a four star read. Primarily, it could use a bit of editing since the plot is a little poky and unnecessarily convoluted in places. But, damn, I really enjoyed what the author was getting at with found families, faith, chronic illness, and metaphysics. Alana is such a wonderful character, very complex, and she plays against Tev so very well.  I’d love to read more in this world, with these characters (uh, one of the characters is a humanoid male who either is also a dog or has a dog spirit or something and I have questions because this is interesting), so I really hope that Koyanagi writes more.

Dear FTC: I read the copy on my nook.

mini-review · Read My Own Damn Books · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Bound to Be a Groom by Megan Mulry (Regency Reimagined #1)

20418278Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes our wildest dreams come true.

In the tumultuous summer of 1808, Spain and England are close to war and four young lovers are close to ecstasy.

To carve out an independent life with the woman she loves, Anna knows she must leave her quiet Spanish convent to become a courtesan. To gain experience, she sets her sights on . . .

Sebastian, whose powerful, aristocratic confidence suits Anna’s mercenary goals. But his arrogance masks a craving for submission that Anna instinctively satisfies. Sebastian soon begs for her hand in marriage, even if it means sharing her with . . .

Pia, who trusts Anna completely—with her body and her future—until she learns of Anna’s hasty marriage. Pia questions their commitment to each other as they leave for London to meet . . .

Farleigh, the seemingly feckless duke who thinks he’s over Sebastian, the potent Spanish soldier he bedded two years ago.

What begins as a series of erotic escapades soon evolves into a deep, unbreakable bond. Two men and two women who yearn to explore are about to make their wildest dreams come true.

So Jenn on Get Booked recommended Bound to be a Groom in response to a listener who wanted to expand their romance sub-genre reading and I was like, “huh, well, I will check this out” (plus it’s only like $3 on ebook, so even if it was a dud it was fine). This is a pretty ok book, though I found the story a bit too thin in places for my taste and the characters flat outside of their bedroom activities. So it falls more on the erotica side (plot serves the sex scenes) verses romance (sex scenes serve the plot). I think ménage romances/erotica are not for me? There are too many moving parts (haha, #sorrynotsorry) to keep track of, especially once three expanded to four. Not ruling the whole sub-genre out completely, but probably not moving up the preference ladder. Mulry does write the sex scenes well, so that is a plus if this is your thing.

Dear FTC: I read the copy I bought for my nook.

mini-review · Reading Diversely · stuff I read

Autonomous by Annalee Newitz

28209634Summary from Goodreads:
Autonomous features a rakish female pharmaceutical pirate named Jack who traverses the world in her own submarine. A notorious anti-patent scientist who has styled herself as a Robin Hood heroine fighting to bring cheap drugs to the poor, Jack’s latest drug is leaving a trail of lethal overdoses across what used to be North America—a drug that compels people to become addicted to their work.

On Jack’s trail are an unlikely pair: an emotionally shut-down military agent and his partner, Paladin, a young military robot, who fall in love against all expectations. Autonomous alternates between the activities of Jack and her co-conspirators, and Elias and Paladin, as they all race to stop a bizarre drug epidemic that is tearing apart lives, causing trains to crash, and flooding New York City.

I had a galley, then it expired, and then I had to get in the holds line for the library’s Libby copy (this is the lyfe, I tell you). But I finally finished Autonomous and it is completely bonkers. I did not know that I needed a post-cyberpunk, futurist, anti-Big Pharma, gender-and-desire-exploring sci-fi novel but once I started reading, Autonomous was totally the book I needed. The beginning is a bit slow but once it picked up I just kept turning pages. Newitz has a background as a science journalist (Newitz co-founded i09 with her partner Charlie Jane Anders) and it really showed in how she pushed the science into the future, kept it within the bounds of believability, and also made it easy to understand.

I also really enjoyed the exploration of gender constructs and desire using a bio-bot. Paladin is one of the point-of-view characters and Newitz just cracked the world of Autonomous open using Paladin’s thoughts and opinions. So damn good.

Trigger warning for sexual abuse/slavery and homophobia (because if we haven’t fixed poverty 200 years in the future, we sure as hell haven’t fixed homophobia).

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley from Edelweiss, then had to finish with the library copy.  I’ll probably buy a copy.

Reading Women · stuff I read

Invisible: How Young Women with Serious Health Issues Navigate Work, Relationships, and the Pressure to Seem Just Fine by Michele Lent Hirsch

Sum33931697mary from Goodreads:
An exploration of women navigating serious health issues at an age where they’re expected to be healthy, dating, having careers and children.

Miriam’s doctor didn’t believe she had breast cancer. She did.

Sophie navigates being the only black scientist in her lab while studying the very disease, HIV, that she hides from her coworkers.

For Victoria, coming out as a transgender woman was less difficult than coming out as bipolar.

Author Michele Lent Hirsch knew she couldn’t be the only woman who’s faced serious health issues at a young age, as well as the resulting effects on her career, her relationships, and her sense of self. What she found while researching Invisible was a surprisingly large and overlooked population with important stories to tell.

Though young women with serious illness tend to be seen as outliers, young female patients are in fact the primary demographic for many illnesses. They are also one of the most ignored groups in our medical system–a system where young women, especially women of color and trans women, are invisible.

And because of expectations about gender and age, young women with health issues must often deal with bias in their careers and personal lives. Not only do they feel pressured to seem perfect and youthful, they also find themselves amid labyrinthine obstacles in a culture that has one narrow idea of womanhood.

Lent Hirsch weaves her own harrowing experiences together with stories from other women, perspectives from sociologists on structural inequality, and insights from neuroscientists on misogyny in health research. She shows how health issues and disabilities amplify what women in general already confront: warped beauty standards, workplace sexism, worries about romantic partners, and mistrust of their own bodies. By shining a light on this hidden demographic, Lent Hirsch explores the challenges that all women face.

This spring is bringing a small crop of books focussed on women’s health and/or marginalized groups’ health. I reviewed Doing Harm a few days ago and Ask Me About My Uterus is also out today (I didn’t get a galley, so I’ll be checking that out later). Today is Invisible‘s turn.

Michele Lent Hirsch used her own experience as a queer woman with chronic pain and illness as a jumping off point to both a) research societal and medical attitudes toward young women with chronic illness and b) interview women all across the spectrum of gender identity/expression and race to give us a taste of what women with chronic illness experience. Chronic illness affects whether or not a woman is able to maintain her personal and professional relationships after symptom onset or diagnosis. It affects whether she can even acquire new relationships. It affects whether she is believed when reporting symptoms.

Invisible is the most intersectional book I’ve ever read. Hirsch has clearly made an effort to create a truly inclusive cohort of female-presenting interview subjects: straight women, gay women, women of color, queer women of color, women who are single, women in relationships, women with children, women without children. A qualitative researcher could take her notes and write a scientific paper about the common themes found in those women’s words. Her information is that good. The only other thing I can say is that the subtitle speaks for itself and this should be required reading for everyone. I think Hirsch could have done more summation or wrote a conclusion to tie all the books’ chapters together. Or perhaps not – maybe we deserve to hit the end of the book and sit there with our thoughts because chronic illness and its effects on women’s lives really has no end or conclusion.

Invisible is out now!

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

dies · Extra Extra · happy dance · stuff I read

Pre-order alert: New Alexander Chee essay collection!

35721123“To write is to sell a ticket to escape, not from the truth, but into it.”
– “On Becoming an American Writer,” Alexander Chee

Y’all, mark April 17, 2018, on your calendar, get your pre-order in at your bookseller, prepare your spring reading nest. Alexander Chee’s new collection of essays How to Write an Autobiographical Novel is stellar beyond words. I’ll have a longer review much closer to the review date.

Dear FTC: I read a paper galley of this book offered by the publisher and I’m surprised I’m still alive to tell you this because I almost died in the fancy marker pen aisle of my local Michael’s when Fersh’s text message appeared to ask if I wanted a galley. There may have been shrieking.

mini-review · Romantic Reads · stuff I read

For Real by Alexis Hall (Spires Universe)

25500803Summary from Goodreads:
Laurence Dalziel is worn down and washed up, and for him, the BDSM scene is all played out. Six years on from his last relationship, he’s pushing forty and tired of going through the motions of submission.

Then he meets Toby Finch. Nineteen years old. Fearless, fierce, and vulnerable. Everything Laurie can’t remember being.

Toby doesn’t know who he wants to be or what he wants to do. But he knows, with all the certainty of youth, that he wants Laurie. He wants him on his knees. He wants to make him hurt, he wants to make him beg, he wants to make him fall in love.

The problem is, while Laurie will surrender his body, he won’t surrender his heart. Because Toby is too young, too intense, too easy to hurt. And what they have—no matter how right it feels—can’t last. It can’t mean anything.

It can’t be real.

After whetting my appetite with M/M romances written by straight ladies (which I liked), I was casting around for M/M romances written by gay men. I got several recommendations for authors (Santino Hassell for one) but then I got a rec for For Real by Alexis Hall, which was pitched to me as the sweetest, filthiest, May-December D/s romance. BDSM, etc. are not really my bag (it’s interesting to me from a philosophical/ideological standpoint, but it doesn’t turn my crank, if you know what I mean) but I was intrigued by the sweet/filthy/age difference idea.

And it’s really good! The recommendation was spot-on. If you are looking for a sweet-but-very-very-very-hot m/m BDSM romance (edges toward erotica maybe?) this is for you. I loved the development of the relationship between Laurie and Toby. There’s a seventeen year age gap between the two, so combined with the basic romance plot are some growing pains, some old broken-heart issues, and the complications that arise when the Dom is the younger of the couple and still working out how to go about with his kink. (How do you even find your people to learn how to do that safely if that’s your thing?)

Laurie’s super-snarky inner monologue had me from page 1; the book opens as he’s trying to gain admittance to a dungeon (dungeon? private sex club? terminology?) where his friends are waiting for him, and he’s had a long day and he’s come straight from work (he’s a trauma surgeon) and he is REALLY annoyed that the doorperson won’t let him in bc he’s not wearing “the right” clothes and he’s pissed that he has to put on a costume to get his rocks off as a sub. I loved him (and he’s right – does it really matter that the D or the s is wearing leather pants?). Toby is also a good cook, so be prepared for serious foodie envy, plus there is a scene in the kitchen that gets so filthy… (I was reading that scene on break while doing an overnight shift at the bookstore and I actually had to tell one of the other booksellers not to look at me because I was sure I was about seventeen colors of “omg this is the hottest thing I’ve ever read but I’m in public and OMG” tomato red), also the trip to Oxford….

Dear FTC: I bought the copy I read on my Nook.