Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Like Lovers Do by Tracy Livesay (Girls Trip #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Tracey Livesay continues her fun-filled Girls Trip series with this romance that will tug at your heartstrings.

Sometimes faking it can lead to the real thing…

Driven and focused, Dr. Nicole Allen is an accomplished surgeon. With a tough past, Nic’s gone above and beyond everyone’s expectations. But when she disciplines an intern—a powerful donor’s son—a prestigious fellowship she’s awaiting is placed in jeopardy. 

Coming from a successful family who runs a medical business empire, Benjamin Reed Van Mont is the black sheep, having chosen to start his own business instead. Though he’s not ready to settle down, he knows when the time comes it definitely won’t be with a workaholic doctor like his friend Nic—even if she’s had him re-examining his edict…more than once. 

When Ben’s status-climbing ex-girlfriend finds her way back into his orbit, Nic proposes a swap of services. She’ll spend the week with Ben on Martha’s Vineyard, pretending to be his girlfriend—but only if he’ll have his family intervene on her behalf so she won’t lose her fellowship. How hard can the charade be? 

But as they’re about to discover, they’ve sorely underestimated their true feelings for each other…

For my 140th read of 2020 (which completes my Goodreads reading goal in August, woo!) I present: mind-blowing hammock sex.

That’s it. That’s the review.

Jk. But the first time Nic and Ben have sexytimes they do it in a goddamn hammock and this is the “can you have sex while on horseback” question of 2020 contemporary romance. It’s amazing. Tracy Livesay is a queen.

Ok, for realz, Nic is a rockstar chief resident in orthopedic surgery headed to a prestigious sports medicine fellowship and Ben has been her landlord and best friend for three years. Nic is career-driven and avoids long-term relationships, preferring short hook-ups, and Ben is balls-deep in love with Nic but doesn’t want a career-driven partner because his parents were awful about putting him second to their careers. Near the end of Nic’s residency, she reprimands a new resident (intern?) – rightly – for blowing off a Black man with health problems and a septic joint to go watch a [sexy] spinal-fusion surgery. However, Racist Bro Surgeon goes whining off to his daddy, who is a major donor to the hospital, and Daddy threatens not only the end of Nic’s residency but also her fellowship placement. Nic doesn’t have a lot of ammunition at her disposal to fight back – she’s a woman, she comes from a less-advantaged background, she doesn’t have a prestigious family name, and she’s Black. She’s a tiny, tiny minority in a very dude-heavy, dick-swinging surgical specialty.

She does, however, have an ace up her sleeve. Ben’s family the Van Monts have generational clout in medicine from generations of doctors. When Nic tells Ben what happened, he offers to ask his parents to put in a good word for her. It’s what friends do, after all, despite the fact that he a) refused to go into the medical profession and b) walked away from working for the family foundation to start his own financial advising firm. When Nic hears that Ben’s ex Tinsley has invited herself to a friend vacation with plans to get Ben back in her clutches – which Ben definitely does not want – Nic offers to accompany Ben as his girlfriend. [Note: I want to make clear – as Ben does in the book – that this is not a quid pro quo situation and that Nic is not obligated to fake date Ben so he’ll call his mom for her.] But while they’re on Martha’s Vineyard, fake dating leads to realistic kissing to maybe something so much more.

I love it.

Nic is amazing and smart and strong – and a much more communicative orthopedic surgeon than I’ve ever encountered because we’re working with some of them on a couple of projects and they’re all allergic to checking their email – and Ben is such a cinnamon roll. The trope at play might be Friends to Lovers but there’s really no thunderblot “wow, Friendo is hot now!” moment. It’s this slow realization that the love between Ben and Nic has existed quietly for some time and they have to take the risk that being intimate and opening up is worth it.

Around the developing romance are two really good examinations about family and relationships. First, through the elitist and racist actions of Tinsley toward Nic, Ben starts to examine his own blind-spots and unintentional microaggressions about race. It leads to him developing a better relationship with Nic and also with a new client at his firm (I kinda hope, given the way Livesay wrote a few scenes with this character, that he’s being set up for a future book because we aren’t given many details about him and I’d really like to know more). Second, both Ben and Nic have built their lives and careers in reaction to perceived choices made by each of their parents. So they, separately, have to clear up some misconceptions with the older generation before they realize they can make a life together.

Did I mention that I love it?

Content warning: Ben’s obnoxious ex-fiance Tinsley is the Spoiled Racist Barbie among the cast of characters in Martha’s Vinyard but you definitely don’t sympathize with her and wish the rest of the characters would just murder her and put her body in the Sound. Also Spoiled Racist Bro Surgeon, but he’s on the page less. [Spoiler: the racists get their comeuppance.]

Like Lovers Do is out now! Even though it’s a book 2, you can definitely read it out of order, because I have book 1 but haven’t read it yet (SORRYYYY) but definitely need to go read it now! And look at that pretty cover.

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

stuff I read

Belabored: A Vindication of the Rights of Pregnant Women by Lyz Lenz

An impassioned and irreverent argument for dismantling our cultural narratives around pregnancy.
The U.S. has the worst rate of maternal deaths in the developed world, a rate that is increasing, even as infant mortality rates decrease. Meanwhile, the right-wing assault on reproductive rights and bodily autonomy has also escalated. We can already glimpse a reality where embryos and fetuses have more rights than the people gestating them, and even women who aren’t pregnant are seen first and foremost as potential incubators.

In Belabored, journalist Lyz Lenz lays bare the misogynistic logic of U.S. cultural narratives about pregnancy, tracing them back to our murky, potent cultural soup of myths, from the religious to the historical. In the present she details, with her trademark blend of wit, snark, and raw intimacy, how sexist assumptions inform our expectations for pregnant people, whether we’re policing them, asking them to make sacrifices with dubious or disproven benefits, or putting them up on a pedestal in an “Earth mother” role. Throughout, she reflects on her own experiences of being seen as alternately a vessel or a goddess–but hardly ever as herself–while carrying each of her two children.

Belabored is an urgent call for us to embrace new narratives around pregnancy and the choice whether or not to have children, emphasizing wholeness and agency, and to reflect those values in our laws, medicine, and interactions with each other.

Local author alert: Lyz Lenz lives up the road from me. Well, up the interstate. Welcome to Iowa. And I read a lot of her articles in the Gazette and other media. I really liked her previous book God Land so was looking forward to her examination of pregnancy and motherhood in America.

Belabored is really well-written. Lenz uses a combination of memoir and reportage to chronicle the many ways the deck is stacked against pregnant people in America. She covers the whole gestation, starting from perceived virginity or sexual availability of women through pregnancy and then post-pregnancy (the “fourth trimester”) as well as pregnancy loss. Lenz covered the historical aspects really well. She also made a real effort to cover racial disparities – Black women in American suffer from many times higher rates of complications and poor outcomes than white women – and LGBTQ+ issues in pregnancy and parenthood, since cis women are not the only uterus-owners who might carry a pregnancy (Lenz acknowledges the lack of inclusive language around pregnancy and motherhood as well).

Lenz’s own memoir of pregnancy, birth, and motherhood is woven throughout this book, so the book is structured somewhat linearly around her own life. She’s given birth to two children, so writes from that experience, but also suffered a miscarriage and recounts how she is now working through the emotional fallout of a sexual assault in college. [Brief content warning: Lenz doesn’t pull her punches; if pregnancy loss, sexual assault, etc. are hard topics for you then make sure you take care of yourself while reading this book.] She tells her own story in a very powerful way. However, I thought that perhaps there could have been a stronger conclusion or presentation of issues facing pregnant people, parents, and etc to tie everything together. The research she did was very good, so her information is solid. (This might just be the scientist background talking.)

Belabored is out today!

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

stuff I read · YA all the way

Don’t Read the Comments by Eric Smith

Divya Sharma is a queen. Or she is when she’s playing Reclaim the Sun, the year’s hottest online game. Divya—better known as popular streaming gamer D1V—regularly leads her #AngstArmada on quests through the game’s vast and gorgeous virtual universe. But for Divya, this is more than just a game. Out in the real world, she’s trading her rising-star status for sponsorships to help her struggling single mom pay the rent.

Gaming is basically Aaron Jericho’s entire life. Much to his mother’s frustration, Aaron has zero interest in becoming a doctor like her, and spends his free time writing games for a local developer. At least he can escape into Reclaim the Sun—and with a trillion worlds to explore, disappearing should be easy. But to his surprise, he somehow ends up on the same remote planet as celebrity gamer D1V.

At home, Divya and Aaron grapple with their problems alone, but in the game, they have each other to face infinite new worlds…and the growing legion of trolls populating them. Soon the virtual harassment seeps into reality when a group called the Vox Populi begin launching real-world doxxing campaigns, threatening Aaron’s dreams and Divya’s actual life. The online trolls think they can drive her out of the game, but everything and everyone Divya cares about is on the line…

And she isn’t going down without a fight.

I’ve followed Eric Smith’s career for a while so I was really tickled to see Don’t Read the Comments (which originally had a different title) out in the world. Took me a bit to read the galley – because life – but I plopped down last night and read the whole thing start to finish. This is a really great YA fiction about a professional gamer girl who is targeted by an organized troll squad (why the industry even entertains these bozos is beyond me) because she’s female and brown who meets a non-pro gamer boy who wants to write stories for video games and runs into problems with an indie game-maker who takes advantage of him. Divya and Aaron have really cute chat interactions but also great interactions with their IRL friends, Rebekah and Ryan. They also have some real-world problems to deal with as teens. Divya’s dad has walked out on her and her mom and it’s her sponsorships and sale of gaming gear she’s been comped that are helping pay the bills. Aaron’s parents are really pushing for him to be pre-med to take over the family practice and low-key threatening to not pay for college if he doesn’t follow that path. The one thing I wish this book did was have Divya and Aaron bonding a bit more over non-gaming stuff, because I feel like the parents and how the teens deal with the parent stuff isn’t quite as developed as the gaming plot. It’s a minor thing because the rest of the book is really good.

Eric very explicitly lays out the problems of sexual harassment, racism, abuse, trolling, doxxing, toxic dudes, IP and copyright infringement, and gatekeeping which are rampant in the industry. There are some really scary moments – such as when Divya’s mom is attacked by trolls at her place of work – and some bros pull the “I was nice to you why won’t you put out” at a pizza parlor. There’s also some description of Rebekah’s previous assault that happened before the book opens, but is used by the trolls to terrorize her. So just a brief content warning that Eric doesn’t soft-ball the scary bits, he just doesn’t describe them graphically.

Now, I’m not a gamer – the last actual video game I played was Myst III…or IV? Which one was Riven? on a PC running Windows 98, I’m an Old, lol – so it took me a little bit to adjust to the descriptions of in-game play for the MMORPG that Divya streams on the “Glitch” platform. But I got into it after a while and Angst Armada that has Divya’s back really sounds like fun, so don’t worry if you’re not a gamer. And, not gonna lie, I did a little squeal when Desi Geek Girls – a rad podcast run by Preeti Chhibber and Swapna Krishna – got name-checked late in the book.

Now I’m going to have a minor spoiler here, so if you want to stop reading here, heyo, Don’t Read the Comments is out now, you can buy it! Thanks for reading!

S

P

O

I

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OK. The resolutions to the troll plot and trash game developer plot are both well-done (although if we actually got to see some real fallout for the bad actors in those plots in the form of lost jobs, lost investors, etc that would have been A+ but overall, yes, good plot climaxes). However, in the falling action of the book Divya decides to stop gaming professionally. She gives up her sponsorships, sells a lot of her gear, and so on so she and her mom are good for the financial short-term. And that made me a little sad. That even though she stood up to the trolls and “won,” the fun that she and Rebekah had with the Angst Armada has been ruined – what the trolls couldn’t stand was that Divya was engaging to fans because she had fun playing the game and made sure that others were having fun, too, and god forbid people love something unironically – and she and Rebekah are really going to have to rebuild their security and their peace-of-mind. It’s a very real-world outcome to this story. Don’t Read the Comments is not a fantasy where the Bad Guys are caught, Divya finds a Cute Guy, and every thing magically returns to normal like it had before the trolls and the doxxing. We are left with an “everyone is doing OK for now” where everyone is processing their trauma and doing their best. I think it really takes some bravery to write an ending like this, where it is not completely satisfying, because we readers do so want good things for characters we root for. And we root so hard for Divya and Aaron to dominate the bad guys so completely that they have to use dial-up to get on the Internet for the rest of their lives. So hats off to Eric for taking the risk with this ending. (And yes, I’m making a hat joke because he’s rarely without his flat cap, haha.)

Don’t Read the Comments has been out since January, you can pick it up wherever books are sold.

Dear FTC: I read a galley of this book we got at my store from the publisher.

mini-review · stuff I read

Kid Gloves: Nine Months of Careful Chaos by Lucy Knisley

If you work hard enough, if you want it enough, if you’re smart and talented and “good enough,” you can do anything.

Except get pregnant.

Her whole life, Lucy Knisley wanted to be a mother. But when it was finally the perfect time, conceiving turned out to be harder than anything she’d ever attempted. Fertility problems were followed by miscarriages, and her eventual successful pregnancy plagued by health issues, up to a dramatic, near-death experience during labor and delivery.

This moving, hilarious, and surprisingly informative memoir not only follows Lucy’s personal transition into motherhood but also illustrates the history and science of reproductive health from all angles, including curious facts and inspiring (and notorious) figures in medicine and midwifery. Whether you’ve got kids, want them, or want nothing to do with them, there’s something in this graphic memoir to open your mind and heart.

I’ve been following Lucy on Instagram for years now, so I wasn’t unfamiliar with her story, of her miscarriage, of her pregnancy, of her labor and what happened after (cw: she had an extremely traumatic delivery and recovery, so be prepared). I’d seen bits of Kid Gloves that she posted to Instagram, that she drew as Pal grew from a baby to a toddler. And she lays it all out, her story and the research she did while she was pregnant, in her characteristic, straightforward style. There are parts that aren’t easy to read. I would definitely not recommend giving this to an expectant person unless they’re forewarned what happens because it is very stressful. We are so lucky that Lucy is with us. (And I want to kick her OB from here to the sun again, grrr.)

Dear FTC: I bought my copy of this book that I bought at Indie Bookstore Day a few years ago, I just didn’t get around to reading it until now.

stuff I read

Harrow the Ninth by Tamsyn Muir (The Locked Tomb #2)

Summary from Goodreads: Harrow the Ninth, the sequel to the sensational, USA today best-selling novel Gideon the Ninth, turns a galaxy inside out as one necromancer struggles to survive the wreckage of herself aboard the Emperor’s haunted space station.

She answered the Emperor’s call. She arrived with her arts, her wits, and her only friend. In victory, her world has turned to ash.

After rocking the cosmos with her deathly debut, Tamsyn Muir continues the story of the penumbral Ninth House in Harrow the Ninth, a mind-twisting puzzle box of mystery, murder, magic, and mayhem. Nothing is as it seems in the halls of the Emperor, and the fate of the galaxy rests on one woman’s shoulders.

Harrowhark Nonagesimus, last necromancer of the Ninth House, has been drafted by her Emperor to fight an unwinnable war. Side-by-side with a detested rival, Harrow must perfect her skills and become an angel of undeath — but her health is failing, her sword makes her nauseous, and even her mind is threatening to betray her.

Sealed in the gothic gloom of the Emperor’s Mithraeum with three unfriendly teachers, hunted by the mad ghost of a murdered planet, Harrow must confront two unwelcome questions: is somebody trying to kill her? And if they succeeded, would the universe be better off?

If you haven’t read Gideon the Ninth yet,

stop,

backup,

go do that because this book will make absolutely ZERO sense without it.

Also MEGA spoilers.

You are warned.

Now, for the rest of you who have read Gideon, Harrow the Ninth is a VERY VERY different book. Harrow is what it is like to have a brain that has undergone major trauma and what we do to ourselves because of that trauma (you have to have read the end of Gideon to understand this, it is so hard to explain). The narrative fractures in at least two, possibly three narrative lines, all of which may or may not be unreliable. So rather than a plot-driven, Gideon’s-gonna-kick-some-ass-and-take-names story we have a character-focused, Harrow-is-trying-her-hardest-but-failing-for-reasons-she-hid-from-herself story. What new information we are given about this world makes Harrow a very Empire Strikes Back type of book – it’s the middle of the trilogy, we’ve had the set-up in Gideon, now we have the explanation, and we’ll get the resolution in Alecto the Ninth (no publication date yet as far as I know). For these reasons, this will be a hard read for some people because the tonal shift is so much. It’s a lot. But be patient because at about the 75% mark, this story pays fucking DIVIDENDS y’all.

Muir still gives us amazing scenes of necromancy and revolting body horror. We’re introduced to new characters in the form of the surviving Lyctors and Ianthe is still around, working her own agenda. Also, to me, God appears to look like David Tennant in his Broadchurch phase. I’m down with it.

Harrow the Ninth is out tomorrow!!!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via Edelweiss but I had a copy on pre-order at the store but it turns out to not have the black-sprayed edges like Gideon so I’m going to have to do some sleuthing to find one, boo.

stuff I read

Mexican Gothic by Silvia Moreno-Garcia

Summary from Goodreads: An isolated mansion. A chillingly charismatic artistocrat. And a brave socialite drawn to expose their treacherous secrets…

After receiving a frantic letter from her newly wed cousin begging for someone to save her from a mysterious doom, Noemí Taboada heads to High Place, a distant house in the Mexican countryside. She’s not sure what she will find—her cousin’s husband, a handsome Englishman, is a stranger, and Noemí knows little about the region.

Noemí is also an unlikely rescuer: She’s a glamorous debutante, and her chic gowns and perfect red lipstick are more suited for cocktail parties than amateur sleuthing. But she’s also tough and smart, with an indomitable will, and she is not afraid: Not of her cousin’s new husband, who is both menacing and alluring; not of his father, the ancient patriarch who seems to be fascinated by Noemí; and not even of the house itself, which begins to invade Noemi’s dreams with visions of blood and doom.

Her only ally in this inhospitable abode is the family’s youngest son. Shy and gentle, he seems to want to help Noemí, but might also be hiding dark knowledge of his family’s past. For there are many secrets behind the walls of High Place. The family’s once colossal wealth and faded mining empire kept them from prying eyes, but as Noemí digs deeper she unearths stories of violence and madness. And Noemí, mesmerized by the terrifying yet seductive world of High Place, may soon find it impossible to ever leave this enigmatic house behind.

So….are you looking for a chilly, creepy book? Maybe a bit of psychological horror in the vein of Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House or perhaps some Gothic horror a la Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca? Have I got a book for you!

Silvia Moreno-Garcia’s new novel Mexican Gothic follows a young woman from Mexico City, Noemí, who is sent by her father to visit her cousin Catalina. Catalina is newly married to an Englishman and living on his estate near a former silver mine deep in the countryside but she has sent every more disturbing, erratic letters. So Noemí takes herself and her city-girl sophistication off to the very remote estate of High Place.

And it is a dreary, chilling, crumbling estate perpetually shrouded in dense fog. The Doyle family built the English mansion – and basically imported as much of Britain as they could – over the silver mine they took over in the 19th century. The mine is no longer operating and the family and house have decayed over the decades since the Revolution. And that’s just the beginning. Catalina’s husband Virgil is handsome yet strangely menacing. Florence, the sister-in-law, is distant, cold, and lays out the rules: no smoking, no hot water for bathing, no electric light, and no disturbing Catalina (who has been diagnosed with tuberculosis, which doesn’t track with her symptoms). Her son Francis is a mild-mannered young man who might be Noemí’s friend, but he’s under his mother’s thumb. And the family patriarch, Howard….well, Howard is the source of almost all content warnings for this book. (CW for discussion of suicide, body horror, eugenics, sexual assault, and those are the ones I can remember off the top of my head.)

After a few days of making herself a nuisance – and having ever-more disturbing dreams – Noemí has enough information to determine that she has to get herself and Catalina away from High Place and this dangerous family. But will the house let them go? (Yeah, you read that right!)

There are so many excellent, weird, creepy parts to Mexican Gothic. The isolated, creepy house, the chilling housekeeper, the magnetic yet menacing husband (all the best parts of Rebecca) mixed up with Guillermo del Toro’s Crimson Peak in the vividly decaying house and the uniquely British obsession with family history but set in 1950s Mexico. Noemí’s interactions with the Doyle family get stranger and scarier and more complex. Then a little “weird nature” like in Jeff VanderMeer’s Annihilation gets into the mix and the story goes WILD (I don’t eat mushrooms and thank God for that). Mexican Gothic is solid Gothic horror. I LOVED IT (it also gave me major book hangover). Another contender for best book of the year.

Mexican Gothic is out now!

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

Boyfriend Material by Alexis Hall

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Summary from Goodreads:
Wanted:
One (fake) boyfriend
Practically perfect in every way

Luc O’Donnell is tangentially–and reluctantly–famous. His rock star parents split when he was young, and the father he’s never met spent the next twenty years cruising in and out of rehab. Now that his dad’s making a comeback, Luc’s back in the public eye, and one compromising photo is enough to ruin everything.

To clean up his image, Luc has to find a nice, normal relationship…and Oliver Blackwood is as nice and normal as they come. He’s a barrister, an ethical vegetarian, and he’s never inspired a moment of scandal in his life. In other words: perfect boyfriend material. Unfortunately apart from being gay, single, and really, really in need of a date for a big event, Luc and Oliver have nothing in common. So they strike a deal to be publicity-friendly (fake) boyfriends until the dust has settled. Then they can go their separate ways and pretend it never happened.

But the thing about fake-dating is that it can feel a lot like real-dating. And that’s when you get used to someone. Start falling for them. Don’t ever want to let them go.

I’m not sure what I was expecting for Alexis Hall’s new Sourcebooks Casablanca release, Boyfriend Material, but it definitely wasn’t a hilarious rom-com narrated by Luc, a neurotic, paparazzi-averse twenty-something. His parents are rock-star famous but his dad walked out when he was three. Luc accidentally gets some (more) bad tabloid press, which affects his fund-raising job at a coleoptera charity – hilariously acronymed CRAPP – and must acquire a respectable, “proper” boyfriend ASAP. He gets set-up with Oliver, a very, very respectable, upstanding barrister with a stable, very staid, acceptable, non-paparazzi-bait lifestyle (incidentally, Oliver is also incredibly hot in his three-piece suits). So they agree to fake date – Oliver will appear in some “good” paparazzi photos and attend the Beetle Drive as Luc’s plus-one and Luc will come to Oliver’s parents’ ruby wedding anniversary do. (FAKE DATING, WHEE!!!!) So when does fake dating – involving sweet dinners at vegan pop-up restaurants, glass sculpture exhibits, quick lunches by the Gladstone statue, and meeting Luc’s batty-but-sweet mom Odile and her “special” curry and her mad-as-pants bestie Judy – become real dating with vulnerability and feelings and OMG PANIC??

Much of Boyfriend Material is Luc freaking out about feelings and learning to have feelings and be an adult and then maybe learning that Oliver isn’t quite as put-together as he thought. The entirety of the book is narrated from Luc’s perspective which makes his journey from panicked, emotionally-fraught bellend back to functional-ish adult feel very intimate and personal. You are 100% in Luc’s corner as the reader even if you want to bonk him over the head for being such a twerp on occasion. It also helps some of the tension in the plot, since it keeps Oliver’s point-of-view off the table throughout the book. When you hit the point-of-no return in this plot, when Oliver also to meet Luc halfway emotionally, it is delicious in the resolution.

Luc has a turn-of-phrase that had me snort-laughing in many places. For serious. On Luc’s and Oliver’s first “date” Oliver, who is a criminal defense attorney, says Luc can ask him that question that people always ask. Luc panics and asks if Oliver ever has sex in the wig….I died. Because that definitely isn’t the question Oliver is thinking of. Hall also absolutely shreds upper-class posh manners. One of his work colleagues is a posh twit, with an even posher, twittier girlfriend, who is a walking punchline about the declining mental acuity of the British landed aristocracy. There is a running joke about “dick pics” that includes the deepest deep cut from The Slipper and the Rose, a Cinderella musical from the 1970s (I screamed in delight, I love that movie). There’s a birthday party with Oliver’s friends that is delightful and then there is Luc’s friend group who are the absolute best, loveable friends who are there for him throughout the book despite said bellend-ness (and they’re hilarious).

I’m going to give a content warning, delightful though this book is. Both Luc and Oliver experience some really garbage casual homophobia – that very casual upper-class British kind that approves of being a Good Gay and not a Bad Gay. There is also an instance of really, really shitty casual homophobia (look, three out of four of Luc’s and Oliver’s parents are garbage, two of them because of said homophobia among other things). Given that this is an #ownvoices novel from Alexis Hall, I think this experience is probably fairly true to life, unfortunate as it is. I trust how Hall has shown how these situations play out. But it doesn’t make it any easier to read especially since Luc and Oliver are so likeable.

The steam level is low-boil/fade-to-black but definitely not G-rated. It definitely fits with this couple. Oliver is a character who doesn’t have casual sex and Luc is trying to turn his relationship-status around. A more descriptive type of sex scene would feel intrusive in this book. (For reference, the only other Alexis Hall book I’ve read is For Real which is SO HOT that I was sure my face was going to catch on fire during one scene, the pie scene. You know the one.)

I would love to see this adapted for a movie. My brain has already cast Matthew Goode and Matthew Rhys as Oliver and Luc (look, Matt Rhys always looks vaguely nervous about something IRL and I shipped them hard in Death Comes to Pemberley) although they’re twenty years too old. I would also accept as Luc the guy who plays Jaskier in The Witcher, Joey Batey, who is both closer to the right age and can handle Luc’s humor but I’m not sure who would match him for Oliver then.

Boyfriend Material is out tomorrow, July 7!!

Dear FTC: I read a digital galley of this book from the publisher via NetGalley – but our finished copies arrived at the store on Friday while I was finishing this review so OF COURSE I have already purchased one.

Romantic Reads · stuff I read

Harbor by Rebekah Weatherspoon (Beards & Bondage #3)

Summary from Goodreads: Betrayed and set adrift…

Months before she’s set to walk down the aisle, assistant district attorney Brooklyn Lewis suffers an unthinkable loss. It’s bad enough her fiancé is violently taken from her, but along with her grief she must also process the fact that the man of her dreams was unfaithful. Friends and family want to see her heal, but Brooklyn doesn’t know how to move on from trauma and deception until she discovers she’s not the only one broken by this tragedy.

A light in the storm…

Attorney Vaughn Coleman and his partner Chris Shaw have also lost the love of their lives, who was found lifeless in the same bed as Brooklyn’s fiancé, taken from them by the same killer.

Unmoored by grief, Brooklyn, Chris, and Vaughn fall into a relationship that both fulfills them and threatens to pull them under the waves of guilt, but they soon realize it may take the love of three people to bring their battered ships back to shore.

*This romance features a polyamorous relationship between two men and a woman, with BDSM overtones*

FEEEEEELINGS. Harbor made me feel alllll the feelings. (Before I get into the review, I will give a brief content warning that the pre-chapter 1/off-page backstory contains cheating by romantic partners and death of romantic partners; there is also homophobia/kink-shaming on the page/related by characters’ family members.)

The Beards & Bondage series (Haven, Sanctuary) concludes with an expertly-written poly/menage BDSM romance between three people brought together by the violent deaths of their romantic partners. Vaughn and Shaw lost their partner Corrine and Brooklyn lost her fiance Josh when Corrine and Josh were murdered by Corrine’s stalker – while they were together romantically. The affair was revealed during the police investigation which complicates the survivors’ grief. In a meeting after the funerals, Vaughn, Shaw, and Brook feel an immediate emotional connection, but Brook chooses to walk away for the time being. Getting involved in her dead fiance’s lover’s partners’ lives is messed up, right? Maybe? No? Over a year later, she contacts the two men, deciding that perhaps she would like to explore their connection and see if there is more in the relationship than just bonding over shared trauma.

Each book in this series turns on the trauma-bonding between the main characters but I really feel like Rebekah excelled in this book, giving each character time to explore his or her own grief and trauma and wants and needs as the relationship progressed. The attention to detail in how Brook processed trauma versus Vaughn versus Shaw made them feel like actual real people processing their emotions right in front of me. The action of Harbor also takes place over a considerable time period – almost eighteen months prior to the epilogue – which really lends to the reality of this romance and allowed the characters to bond as people and also develop the trust needed in a BDSM relationship. The BDSM scenes, while certainly explicit, are exquisitely written. Rebekah could give a masterclass in how to make a scene hotter than hot but without using awkward euphemisms. The banter between each character was also so well-done. Brook and Vaughn converse differently than Brook and Shaw and Shaw and Vaughn, being in a long-term relationship, have their own conversational tics. Then you have Brook and her sister Liz – who is amazing in Sanctuary, do recommend. Nothing feels artificial – like I said, everyone feels like a real person instead of an invented character in a book.

Poly romances in general are harder to me to get into because it feels like – in my head – there are too many people and emotions to keep track of. I did not have this issue with Harbor – each character’s motivations and needs are very clear and they all worked together toward a beautifully satisfying emotional outcome. I also want to stress the significance of having three Black romantic main characters – including a plus-sized Black woman being worshipped by two gorgeous men – on the page. Mainstream romance publishing still hasn’t quite got the memo on diversity of all kinds, so Harbor is self-published. I can’t order in paperbacks of Harbor to sell in my store, at least not yet, but I can tell you to go buy Rebekah’s books via your e-book retailer of choice and use your dollars to show that a polyamorous romance with Black characters is what you want in your romance reading.

Harbor released on Tuesday, June 30, and if you haven’t yet read Haven and Sanctuary pick those up two and have yourself a wild reading weekend.

Dear FTC: I read a copy of this book that I purchased on my Nook.