Romantic Reads · stuff I read

A Delicate Deception (Regency Imposters #3) by Cat Sebastian

39735911Summary from Goodreads:
When Amelia Allenby escaped a stifling London ballroom for the quiet solitude of the Derbyshire countryside, the very last thing she wanted was an extremely large, if—she grudgingly admits—passably attractive man disturbing her daily walks. Lecturing the surveyor about property rights doesn’t work and, somehow, he has soon charmed his way into lemon cakes, long walks, and dangerously heady kisses.

The very last place Sydney wished to be was in the shadow of the ruins of Pelham Hall, the inherited property that stole everything from him. But as he awaits his old friend, the Duke of Hereford, he finds himself increasingly captivated by the maddeningly lovely and exceptionally odd Amelia. He quickly finds that keeping his ownership of Pelham Hall a secret is as impossible as keeping himself from falling in love with her.

But when the Duke of Hereford arrives, Sydney’s ruse is revealed and what started out as a delicate deception has become a love too powerful to ignore. Will they let a lifetime of hurt come between them or can these two lost souls find love and peace in each other?

New. Cat. Sebastian. Yes!

The last time we saw Amelia Allenby, she was co-authoring a Perkin Warbeck slash-fic novel so racy she was in danger of violating the obscenity laws. Since then Amelia has voluntarily exiled herself from the upper class Society her mother worked so hard to enter. Amelia didn’t want it. Between the whispers about her illegitimate birth and her growing social anxiety the situation was growing untenable, so Amelia just…left. In the middle of a dance at a ball, so quite dramatic, but for a year she and her ex-governess-turned-companion Georgiana have been living quietly in the countryside. Amelia has been writing less-racy historical novels and taking long walks.

Once day, there’s a man in her path. He’s large and mysterious and a land surveyor – and a Quaker. And he simply won’t go away. As we, the reader, so find out, Sydney is in the neighborhood because he is the owner of Pelham Hall – Amelia’s landlord – and he absolutely does not want to be present on the property he now owns that was the site of his brother’s and sister-in-law’s deaths. However, his old friend Lex, Duke of Hereford has summoned him. Amelia’s conversation is diverting, and her inquisitive mind challenges him, so Syd allows Amelia to believe he’s only visiting in the neighborhood. He’s not planning to stay long, so why allow formalities to come between them (which also seems to be a very Quaker viewpoint). Amelia lets down her guard….which is when Lex arrives – with several surprises for Syd in store – and upsets the delicate balance of Amelia’s life.

Lesson: being unreasonably vague about the circumstances of one’s life and trying to hide from it are extremely bad for the development of trust in one’s closest relationships. This cuts both ways because Amelia hasn’t exactly been forthcoming about who she is to Syd.

A Delicate Deception is a very quiet book – Lex and his Duke-sized ego aside – about working through one’s complex social anxieties to meet your partner halfway. Sebastian seeds in bits from beloved English canon novels (you’ll know them when you read them) and also gives Amelia some really lovely things to say about how we (still) view virginity and the position of children born to unmarried parents. However, I would have loved a few more scenes between Amelia and Syd “falling in love” – I didn’t quite feel them connect like Robin/Alistair and Verity/Ash did. The resolution of the HEA is very interesting in this book and I’m glad to see Sebastian working on an ending that fits the genre but is less traditional.

This has to be the queerest non-erotica historical I’ve ever read – all the presumed straight people are either deceased (Syd’s brother and sister-in-law), in America (his parents), or very minor characters who don’t really matter (the vicar and his wife, Lady Stafford, etc). Amelia is bisexual (or pansexual, possibly, since at one point she says something about kissing interesting people) and Sydney is bisexual. Lex is Syd’s ex-lover and best friend and definitely gay (he is also blind and gets all the best lines, because of course he does, he’s the duke) and Georgiana appears to be asexual or aromantic. Keating, from Unmasked by the Marquess, is here as Amelia’s groom/handyman and apparently making the rounds of the local gay men. AND ROBIN POPS UP RIGHT AT THE VERY END. (Omg, Robin and Keating greeting each other is like the “hey, bitch” of Regency romance I never knew I wanted; but we are denied a meeting between Lex and Alistair and you will understand why when you read this book *give it, do want a short story*)

Also, PLEASE can we have the Perkin Warbeck slash-fic novel? Will read, I promise 😂

A Delicate Deception is out today, December 10!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss and you know I had this preordered like last decade.

mini-review · stuff I read

In the Dream House: A Memoir by Carmen Maria Machado

42188604._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
A startling, moving, and innovative memoir from the National Book Award Finalist for Fiction.

For years Carmen Maria Machado has struggled to articulate her experiences in an abusive same-sex relationship. In this extraordinarily candid and radically inventive memoir, Machado tackles a dark and difficult subject with wit, inventiveness and an inquiring spirit, as she uses a series of narrative tropes—including classic horror themes—to create an entirely unique piece of work which is destined to become an instant classic.

In the Dream House is a phenomenal work of memoir, both in its unique construction and determination to shatter cultural myths about domestic violence in queer relationships. Machado chose to use second person as a point of view to show how her relationship with her “dream woman” slowly devolved into terror, a choice that both allowed space between herself and the incidents and also invited the reader to make those horrible situations personal, make them universal. In between these short vignettes/chapters are small essays about the recognition of domestic abuse in queer relationships and how, legally and culturally, it is still very hard to contemplate from a cis-het-patriarchal worldview.

I was privileged to hear Machado read over the weekend (and in conversation with Garth Greenwell) and she’s such a wonderful speaker and thinker. In the Dream House is both a quick (lots of white space) and slow (there are some incidents with her “dream woman” that are truly terrifying and give you pause) read but very much worth the time you spend on it.

Dear FTC: I read a galley that I requested from Graywolf Press. Thank you so much, Graywolf, for sending it.

Reading Diversely · Reading Graphically · Reading Women · stuff I read

Bloodlust & Bonnets by Emily McGovern

40680980Summary from Goodreads:
From the creator of the hit webcomic My Life As a Background Slytherin comes a hilarious graphic novel pastiche of classic Romantic literature led by a trio of queer misfits—and several angry vampires.

Set in early nineteenth-century Britain, Bloodlust & Bonnets follows Lucy, an unworldly debutante who desires a life of passion and intrigue—qualities which earn her the attention of Lady Violet Travesty, the leader of a local vampire cult.

But before Lucy can embark on her new life of vampiric debauchery, she finds herself unexpectedly thrown together with the flamboyant poet Lord Byron (“from books!”) and a mysterious bounty-hunter named Sham. The unlikely trio lie, flirt, fight, and manipulate each other as they make their way across Britain, disrupting society balls, slaying vampires, and making every effort not to betray their feelings to each other as their personal and romantic lives become increasingly entangled.

Both witty and slapstick, elegant and gory, Emily McGovern’s debut graphic novel pays tribute to and pokes fun at beloved romance tropes, delivering a joyous, action-packed world of friendship and adventure.

I’ve long been a fan of “My Life as a Background Slytherin” so when I saw that Emily McGovern had a Regency-romp graphic novel coming out I downloaded it immediately. Bloodlust & Bonnets is a goofy send-up of both the Regency and paranormal romance genres. It’s unapologetically queer – Sham is transgender, Lucy is bisexual, and Byron is, well, Byron (he’s fabulous in drag). Throw in a telepathic French eagle, a questionable Society matron, a vampire cult, and a magical, omniscient castle with a security problem and this puts the capital R in Romp. The plot has a lot of the same energy and humor that Nimona brought to the table, though this is not a YA graphic novel (some swearing and one very nekkid succubus). McGovern takes a lot of potshots at genre tropes, to the point that the book is perhaps overstuffed to the detriment of the plot. But it’s so much fun to read.

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

stuff I read

The Stonewall Reader edited by New York Public Library

41180913Summary from Goodreads:
For the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising, an anthology chronicling the tumultuous fight for LGBTQ rights in the 1960s and the activists who spearheaded it

June 28, 2019 marks the fiftieth anniversary of the Stonewall uprising – the most significant event in the gay liberation movement and the catalyst for the modern fight for LGBTQ rights in the United States. Drawing from
the New York Public Library’s archives, The Stonewall Reader is a collection of firsthand accounts, diaries, periodic literature and articles from LGBTQ magazines and newspapers that documented both the years leading up to and the years following the riots. Most importantly, this anthology shines a light on forgotten figures who were pivotal in the movement, such as Lee Brewster, head of the Queens Liberation Front and Ernestine Eckstine, one of the few out, African American, lesbian activists in the 1960s.

The Stonewall Reader is a small but very diverse anthology centered on LGBTQ+ experiences before, during, and after the Stonewall riots of 1969. It took a bit to read because the structure of some pieces wasn’t straightforward (there is a long, dense stream-of-consciousness piece by Jill Johnston that is a prime example). But the collection highlights how Stonewall came about – with all the ambiguity around exact events – how far we’ve come as a society in the intervening 50 years, and how far we still have to go.

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book when it was published.

stuff I read

Gentleman Jack: The Real Anne Lister by Anne Choma, Sally Wainwright (Foreword), read by Eva Hope and Erin Shanager

46749454._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
In 1834, two women openly celebrated their marriage to one another for the first time in British history. This is their remarkable story, now the basis for a major new eight-part HBO series.

Gentleman Jack offers a remarkable and unlikely love story, set in the complex, changing world of Halifax – the cradle of the industrial revolution. After years of exotic travel, Anne Lister returns home in 1832, determined to transform the fate of her faded ancestral home Shibden Hall. To restore Shibden to its former glory, Anne must re-open her coal mines and marry well. But charismatic, single-minded, swashbuckling Anne Lister – who dressed head-to-toe in black and charmed her way into high society – has no intention of marrying a man. For Anne has set her sights on the wealthy socialite, Ms. Ann Walker. Relying on never-before-published entries from Lister’s coded diaries, historian Anne Choma brings to life this momentous period in the life of an 18th century landowner, industrialist, explorer, lesbian, and feminist icon.

I originally picked up Gentleman Jack in paperback, but saw the library audio was available – which is really interesting because they got a second narrator to read the longer diary excerpts. She used a Yorkshire accent, so we got to hear something approaching Anne Lister’s own accent. It’s a wee bit boring in places, since this is book concentrating on letters and a diary so it is hard for the biographer to “plot” the book. However, Anne is a fascinating contradiction of a woman and this is an excellent companion to the TV series.

Dear FTC: I read an audiobook edition of this book from the library and bought a copy when it came out in paperback.

stuff I read

This Is How You Lose The Time War by Amal El-Mohtar and Max Gladstone

42996336._SX318_Summary from Goodreads:
Two time-traveling agents from warring futures, working their way through the past, begin to exchange letters—and fall in love in this thrilling and romantic book from award-winning authors Amal-El Mohtar and Max Gladstone.

Among the ashes of a dying world, an agent of the Commandant finds a letter. It reads: Burn before reading.

Thus begins an unlikely correspondence between two rival agents hellbent on securing the best possible future for their warring factions. Now, what began as a taunt, a battlefield boast, grows into something more. Something epic. Something romantic. Something that could change the past and the future.

Except the discovery of their bond would mean death for each of them. There’s still a war going on, after all. And someone has to win that war. That’s how war works. Right?

Cowritten by two beloved and award-winning sci-fi writers, This Is How You Lose the Time War is an epic love story spanning time and space.

I bought This is How You Lose the Time War in hardcover when it came out this summer but didn’t get to it right away. Then I saw the audiobook – which was getting raves – available on the ICPL Overdrive site so borrowed it.

This is an endlessly inventive time-travel novel but if you’re looking for hard SF/nuts-and-bolts time travel you’ll want to look elsewhere. Time travel across multiverse and millennia is the feature but the real point of this book is the relationship between Red and Blue, rival, skilled operatives on opposite sides of a war. Blue opens a daring, mocking correspondence in the aftermath of a bloody battle, Red counters, grudging admiration and challenge. Soon, they are confiding secrets in an ever-more dangerous exchange until they cannot extricate themselves. Without giving away the ending, I have to say that I kept thinking of the Liebestod from Wagner’s Tristan und Isolde as well as the letters of Abelard and Heloise.

The audio production is indeed superb. The two narrators are perfectly chosen for their respective parts and the reading speed was just right.

Dear FTC: I bought this in hardcover and listened to the audiobook via the library’s Overdrive.

stuff I read

Gideon the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #1)

42036538Summary from Goodreads:
Gideon the Ninth is the most fun you’ll ever have with a skeleton.
The Emperor needs necromancers.
The Ninth Necromancer needs a swordswoman.
Gideon has a sword, some dirty magazines, and no more time for undead bullshit.
Tamsyn Muir’s Gideon the Ninth unveils a solar system of swordplay, cut-throat politics, and lesbian necromancers. Her characters leap off the page, as skillfully animated as necromantic skeletons. The result is a heart-pounding epic science fantasy.
Brought up by unfriendly, ossifying nuns, ancient retainers, and countless skeletons, Gideon is ready to abandon a life of servitude and an afterlife as a reanimated corpse. She packs up her sword, her shoes, and her dirty magazines, and prepares to launch her daring escape. But her childhood nemesis won’t set her free without a service.
Harrowhark Nonagesimus, Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House and bone witch extraordinaire, has been summoned into action. The Emperor has invited the heirs to each of his loyal Houses to a deadly trial of wits and skill. If Harrowhark succeeds she will be become an immortal, all-powerful servant of the Resurrection, but no necromancer can ascend without their cavalier. Without Gideon’s sword, Harrow will fail, and the Ninth House will die.
Of course, some things are better left dead.

So, the Bookternet started screaming about Gideon the Ninth back in, oh, February? and Tor was nice enough to hook a girl up with a digital galley which I inhaled immediately. The hook for this book was “lesbian necromancers in space” so I was like “YES PLEASE NOW HOW DOES THIS WORK.”

Caveat: they are in actual space for about 5 pages (going from one planet to the other) and I wasn’t quite sure about Gideon’s or Harrow’s sexual orientation until about two-thirds through the book (I was sure Gideon would have shagged anything not wearing Ninth House-Goth robes if it meant getting off that planet and Harrow I had down as asexual, since sexual desire is more of a fleshly (read: human) thing and not within her exalted purview as an exemplary bone witch and the Reverend Daughter of the Ninth House) but yes, so many necromancers. And is necromancy an art, or magic, or a science? Depending on the House specialty in this world, it could be any of those three.

My review: WHAAAAAAAATTTT IS THIS ENDING AND WHEEEEEEEEEERE CAN I FIND THE NEXT BOOK *cries in Why Are Trilogies*

I mean, Gideon is now my favorite snarky, ginger, trashweasel and I loved how Muir played Gideon and Harrow off each other. They take strips off each other for fun – Harrow is better at this than Gideon – but at the end of the day they really have only each other. The supporting characters were so fun (my heart, the Pents). I loved Muir’s world-building with all the many different types of necromancy. Also: swordfighting. I wouldn’t want to live in this world (ew, so many reanimated skeletons) but it was so much fun to read.

I do have a trigger warning for a discussion of suicide in the past. And it goes without saying that a necromancer’s world is full of all the ways one can die violently and be brought back to life, so this is a violent book at times.

And now I must wait until Muir finished the next book. *plots*

Gideon the Ninth is out today!! Go, go, go! Pick one up from your favorite bookstore.

Dear FTC: I inhaled this galley twice – thanks Tor – and then preordered a copy because BLACK-SPRAYED EDGES.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Three Part Harmony by Holley Trent (Plot Twist #2)

44662240._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Sometimes three is deliciously better than two.Raleigh McKean has borne witness to every conceivable way one person can take advantage of another. He sees it all the time in his job as a book publicist, especially working alongside his boss’s daughter. Everley Shannon would be amazing if she wasn’t such a pain in his ass.

All Raleigh wants is something real. But when the captivating stranger he agrees to go home with turns out to be Bruce Engle, the elusive rock star, it’s a harsh reminder that users are everywhere. Raleigh’s his route to a book deal, nothing more. What Raleigh doesn’t realize is that the brooding musician is also searching for something real—and it’s possible he’s already found it in Everley’s arms. But is there room in those arms for one more?

With Everley’s own dream of getting out from under her father’s shadow crumbling into chaos, it feels like the perfect time to embrace something new. But when Raleigh’s insatiable attraction to both Everley and Bruce makes it impossible to keep his distance, there’s only one obvious solution…assuming they can learn how to share.

This book is approximately 75,000 words. One-click with confidence. This title is part of the Carina Press Romance Promise : all the romance you’re looking for with an HEA/HFN. It’s a promise!

Poly/ménage romances are still one of the romance corners I don’t get into much (y’all, there are a lot of moving parts to keep track of in some of them, pun intended) but I do keep trying to find ones I like. I had heard Holley Trent, who I hadn’t read before, was looking for reviewers for her new novel, Three-Part Harmony, and other readers said her books were good. OK, I’ll try it out.

It took me a bit to get into the story. Since I hadn’t read the first book I wasn’t sure what was going on with the whole scene at the beginning (which I guess follows directly off of book one) and Raleigh, one of those characters’ editor and a main character here, is a bit of an acquired taste. Plus, I wasn’t quite on board with Raleigh being territorial about his job where Everley was concerned since he was being a total prat (see also: things that can be cleared up with a real conversation). But after about 40 pages, once the three main characters were squared, the plot chugged right along. Interestingly, this is a rather medium-steamy ménage romance; there are some sex scenes but they’re not intimately described and definitely won’t blow your hair back (if you’re looking for HAWT threesomes by Chapter 2 this book is not for you). It’s mostly three people who manage to figure out by the end of the book that they love each other and function best as a unit. And boy, do they need each other because their families are all garbage (Everley’s dad is kind of sleazy and forcing nepotism on her, Raleigh’s family are career Conservative politicians who don’t agree with his “lifestyle,” and Bruce’s high-society parents don’t know what to do with autism spectrum disorder; I would add a mild CW for references to past trouble with families who are not supportive of queer or neurodiverse people.) Trent’s writing was quite good so I think I’ll seek out book one in this series at minimum.

Three Part Harmony is out today!

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