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.

Read My Own Damn Books · stuff I read

Confessions of the Fox by Jordy Rosenberg

36470806._SY475_Summary from Goodreads:
Set in the eighteenth century London underworld, this bawdy, genre-bending novel reimagines the life of thief and jailbreaker Jack Sheppard to tell a profound story about gender, love, and liberation.

Recently jilted and increasingly unhinged, Dr. Voth throws himself into his work, obsessively researching the life of Jack Sheppard, a legendary eighteenth century thief. No one knows Jack’s true story—his confessions have never been found. That is, until Dr. Voth discovers a mysterious stack of papers titled Confessions of the Fox.

Dated 1724, the manuscript tells the story of an orphan named P. Sold into servitude at twelve, P struggles for years with her desire to live as “Jack.” When P falls dizzyingly in love with Bess, a sex worker looking for freedom of her own, P begins to imagine a different life. Bess brings P into the London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with London’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of an oncoming plague abound. At last, P becomes Jack Sheppard, one of the most notorious—and most wanted—thieves in history.

Back in the present, Dr. Voth works feverishly day and night to authenticate the manuscript. But he’s not the only one who wants Jack’s story—and some people will do whatever it takes to get it. As both Jack and Voth are drawn into corruption and conspiracy, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined—and only a miracle will save them both.

An imaginative retelling of Brecht’s Threepenny Opera, Confessions of the Fox blends high-spirited adventure, subversive history, and provocative wit to animate forgotten histories and the extraordinary characters hidden within.

Confessions of the Fox snagged my attention in catalogs last year and I started trying to read it as a digital galley. However, the structure of Confessions of the Fox is such that it makes digital reading very hard – there are MANY footnotes – so I waited to pick up a hardcover to try and read it. And then I realized that it required some involved reading time given the nature of how the story is told. So I started this book several times before I finally parked my butt on the couch during 24 in 48 and read the entire thing in one sitting.

This. Book. Is. Wild. 

The book opens with Dr. Voth, ostensibly telling the reader that the manuscript we are about to read was discovered as the university he works for emptied the stacks to make way for fancy administrative offices and that it is a ground-breaking work. The manuscript is purported to be the memoirs of one Jack Sheppard, a legendary outlaw in eighteenth-century London who serves as the inspiration for The Threepenny Opera and Mack the Knife. As “Jack” tells his story, the details of his life twist away from known sources. In this source Jack is a transman and his girlfriend Bess refers to herself as “lascar,” making her a woman of South Asian descent. As the narrative shifts and twists it seems to grow beyond the page…but is it real? Is Jack a narrator we can trust? Or Bess?

In between Jack’s story we get two sets of footnotes: 1) the annotations made by Dr. Voth noting deviations in the text from known facts about Jack Sheppard and explanations of seventeenth-century slang and 2) Dr. Voth begins to narrate the absurd twists his life takes after his discovery of the manuscript. As a transman, Dr. Voth is deeply invested in a manuscript that, if authenticated, would bring a significant contribution to trans and queer literature and history. And it is this emotional connection to the manuscript that opens Dr. Voth to manipulation by less-than-savory sources. It creates a second narrative within a frame around the Jack Sheppard narrative.

Jordy Rosenberg has given us a novel that is at once a purported eighteenth-century memoir and a narrative that morphs into a rallying cry against the commoditization of bodies, of prison abolition, of anti-colonialism, of anti-racism, of trans self-determination. Surrounding this is a framing narrative in footnotes of the professor annotating this tale and his fight against a university increasingly beholden to shady corporate and pharmaceutical interests, veering from Sterne-ean to Vonnegut-like levels of absurdity. Confessions of the Fox is a very complex book but well-worth the read.

I will give a trigger warning for this book. There are several instances where cis characters express an intrusive (and in one instance, gross) interest in a transman’s genitalia. There is also a scene of a surgery that is very appropriate to the historical setting in its details. Given that Rosenberg is a professor of queer and gender theory as well as eighteenth-century literature, I think the subject matter and situations in this book were handled very well. 

Dear FTC: I started reading a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but wound up having to buy a copy because of the formatting.