Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

lady's guide to celestial mechanicsThe Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics
by Olivia Waite
Historical Romance / LGBT
322 pages
Published June 2019

This was one of two sweet, lighthearted romances I read to prepare myself for Margaret Atwood’s The Testaments – and it definitely helped. HEAs always lift my mood.

I was a little afraid, with the title, that we were going to be talking about astrology, but nope. Astronomy. Just from a Victorian point of view. Well. Slightly earlier, actually, as the book opens in 1816. It’s a true Regency romance, set twenty years before Victoria becomes Queen.

Lucy Muchelney, one of our two main characters, is left somewhat at loose ends after her father dies and her lover marries a man. She had been serving as her father’s assistant in astronomy calculations, but her brother, now in control of their finances, tells her she should get married and leave silly thoughts of science behind her. Then she finds a letter from one of her father’s patrons, the Countess of Moth, and runs off to London, hoping to convince the Countess she’s as good as her father.

The Countess, recently widowed, is intrigued by Lucy, and takes her on. Together they face the sexism of the exclusively male Polite Science Society, and privately struggle with a romance that can never be publicly acknowledged.

I really enjoyed this romance. I think it was actually less explicit than most of the adult romances I read, but I know LGBT romances in particular have to walk a fine line because people are all-too-ready to call them bad names as it is. It absolutely had sex scenes, just…not as dirty and detailed and prevalent as many romances I’ve read.

I liked that it dealt with issues surrounding the need to keep the relationship a secret. In that era, being gay was a crime, though usually only prosecuted against men. But it meant it couldn’t be publicly acknowledged; they couldn’t marry. So there’s a worry that there’s nothing legally binding them together, and if, say, the Countess were to get tired of Lucy, Lucy could be out on the street. The imbalance of power with no safety net puts Lucy on shaky ground, and that’s something the two women have to work out.

The bulk of the plotline outside of the romance deals with the sexism of the scientific society at the time; my Friday 56 this week quoted a particularly damning scene. Lucy gets her revenge eventually, and it’s a delight.

Fun little regency romance. There are a few authors writing diverse historical romance, and I’d love to see more!

From the cover of The Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics:

As Lucy Muchelney watches her ex-lover’s sham of a wedding, she wishes herself anywhere else. It isn’t until she finds a letter from the Countess of Moth, looking for someone to translate a groundbreaking French astronomy text, that she knows where to go. Showing up at the Countess’ London home, she hoped to find a challenge, not a woman who takes her breath away.

Catherine St. Day looks forward to a quiet widowhood once her late husband’s scientific legacy is fulfilled. She expected to hand off the translation and wash her hands of the project—instead, she is intrigued by the young woman who turns up at her door, begging to be allowed to do the work, and she agrees to let Lucy stay. But as Catherine finds herself longing for Lucy, everything she believes about herself and her life is tested.

While Lucy spends her days interpreting the complicated French text, she spends her nights falling in love with the alluring Catherine. But sabotage and old wounds threaten to sever the threads that bind them. Can Lucy and Catherine find the strength to stay together or are they doomed to be star-crossed lovers?

Advertisements

Book Review: Red, White, and Royal Blue

red white & royal blueRed, White, and Royal Blue
by Casey McQuiston
M/M Romance (New Adult)
421 pages
Published May 2019

I have been looking forward to this book for several months, and it arrived just in time for Pride, and it DID NOT DISAPPOINT. It is very much an adult romance, complete with sex scenes. They are not the focus of the story, but they’re definitely not skimped on, either!

Red, White, and Royal Blue takes the bisexual son of the (female!) US President and pits him against the closeted (at order of his grandmother) gay youngest prince of England. After they make a scene at an international event (oh, enemies-to-lovers trope, how I love thee!) the two boys are ordered to make nice, and make it look like their scene was just friendly rough-housing that got out of hand. As typical for enemies-to-lovers, once they’re forced to spend time together, they each start to realize the other isn’t all that bad.

I loved so much about this book. I loved Alex and Henry. I loved the side characters. I loved the formatting when the author includes email and text chains between characters. I loved that the boys start quoting real historical queer letters to each other.

I mean, with sentences like “Henry lets Alex take him apart with painstaking patience and precision, moans the name of God so many times that the room feels consecrated.” How do you NOT fall in love with this book? Just – wow.

I could totally see the author writing stories for the rest of “The Trio” – the president and vice president’s kids/grandkids (Alex’s sister, June, and their best friend, Nora.) But this book stands just fine completely on its own.

This book ranks right up there with The Priory of the Orange Tree, and that’s one of my new all-time favorites. So yeah. Absolutely fantastic romance.

From the cover of Red, White, and Royal Blue:

When his mother became President of the United States, Alex Claremont-Diaz was promptly cast as the American equivalent of a young royal. Handsome, charismatic, genius – his image is pure millennial-marketing gold for the White House. There’s only one problem: Alex has a beef with an actual prince, Henry, across the pond. And when the tabloids get hold of a photo involving an Alex/Henry altercation, U.S./British relations take a turn for the worse.

Heads of family and state and other handlers devise a plan for damage control: Stage a truce between the two rivals. What at first begins as a fake, Instagrammable friendship grows deeper, and more dangerous, than either Alex or Henry could have imagined. Soon Alex finds himself hurtling into a secret romance with a surprisingly unstuffy Henry that could derail the presidential campaign and upend two nations. It raises the question: Can love save the world after all? Where do we find the courage, and the power, to be the people we are meant to be? And how can we learn to let our true colors shine through?

Book Review: Confessions of the Fox

confessions of the foxConfessions of the Fox
by Jordy Rosenberg
Historical Fiction/Contemporary Fiction
329 pages
Published June 2018

Confessions of the Fox is an #ownvoices novel – written by a trans author, about a trans professor writing about a manuscript about a trans eighteenth-century thief. In that way, it’s quite unique, and valuable for its observations about being trans.

But story-wise – it drug on about a hundred pages too long, got bogged down by the footnotes that tell the professor’s story, and ultimately went off on some conspiracy tangent that added nothing to the plot. It got weird. I think the book would have been better if it had just been Jack Sheppard’s story, without the “professor-annotating-the-manuscript” framework built around it.

Jack is a very compelling character, but we keep getting distracted from his story by the professor’s career and love life problems, so it feels very fragmented. I did enjoy the colorful, metaphorical language constantly being used to talk about sex, though! Make no mistake, this is a dirty book. It’s mostly dirty in the most flowery of terms, so it’s more entertaining than titillating, but it’s something to keep in mind if you’re thinking of gifting it to someone!

Ultimately, I wish I’d skipped it. I know there are people that like the book-within-a-book framework, and I do sometimes, but I feel like it distracted from the story I really wanted to read, here.

From the cover of Confessions of the Fox:

Jack Sheppard and Edgeworth Bess were the most notorious thieves, jailbreakers, and lovers of eighteenth-century London. Yet no one knows the true story; their confessions have never been found.

Until now. Reeling from heartbreak, a scholar named Dr. Voth discovers a long-lost manuscript – a gender-defying exposé of jack and Bess’s adventures. Dated 1724, the book depicts a London underworld where scamps and rogues clash with the city’s newly established police force, queer subcultures thrive, and ominous threats of the Plague abound. Jack – a transgender carpenter’s apprentice – has fled his master’s house to become a legendary prison-break artist, and Bess has escaped the draining of the fenlands to become a revolutionary.

Is Confessions of the Fox an authentic autobiography or a hoax? Dr. Voth obsessively annotates the manuscript, desperate to find the answer. As he is drawn deeper into Jack and Bess’s tale of underworld resistance and gender transformation, it becomes clear that their fates are intertwined – and only a miracle will save them all.

Confessions of the Fox is, at once, a work of speculative historical fiction, a soaring love story, a puzzling mystery, an electrifying tale of adventure and suspense, and an unabashed celebration of sex and sexuality. Writing with the narrative mastery of Sarah Waters and the playful imagination of Nabokov, Jordy Rosenberg is an audacious storyteller of extraordinary talent.

Book Review: The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy

lady's guide to petticoats and piracyThe Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy
by Mackenzi Lee
Young Adult/Historical Fiction/LGBT
450 pages
Published October 2018

I have been eagerly awaiting this sequel to The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue, and it did not disappoint! In The Lady’s Guide we continue the story of the Montague siblings, with the book opening on Felicity showing up at her brother’s flat in London while she figures out how to get into medical school. I love the sibling relationship between these two, and Felicity’s friendship with Monty’s partner Percy. The three of them just make an amazing little group, so supportive and understanding of each other.

Felicity strongly hinted at being asexual in The Gentleman’s Guide, and through the course of this book, that is cemented. Even when she comes to care for someone, sex just…isn’t her thing. Romance isn’t really either, making her both asexual and aromantic. It’s fantastic representation for an identity we don’t see very often in books. Or, perhaps, an identity we don’t see explicitly mentioned in fiction. Many books don’t have romantic plots and just don’t investigate that aspect of their characters, but to investigate that aspect of a character and say NO, they are NOT interested in that is unique.

Similar to The Gentleman’s Guide, this is an adventure story. Unexpectedly, we veered into magical realism in this book, with the existence of some fantastical creatures I wasn’t expecting to see. Nothing about The Gentleman’s Guide had implied that the world they inhabited was not exactly ours, but The Lady’s Guide does deviate. So that was a big surprise, and I’m not sure I like it. It felt a little forced. I think the “secret” that someone was protecting could have been written as something real instead of a fantastic creature.

That minor quibble aside, I really loved this book, just like I did the first. These two are GREAT books, and the characters are outstanding.

From the cover of The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy:

Felicity Montague is through with pretending she prefers society parties to books about bonesetting – or that she’s not smarter than most people she knows, or that she cares about anything more than her dream of becoming a doctor.

A year after an accidentally whirlwind tour of Europe, which she spent evading highwaymen and pirates with her brother Monty, Felicity has returned to England with two goals in mind – avoid the marriage proposal of Callum Doyle, a lovestruck suitor from Edinburgh, and enroll in medical school. However, her intellect and passion will never be enough in the eyes of the administrators, who see men as the sole guardians of science.

But then a small window of hope opens. Dr. Alexander Platt, an eccentric physician who Felicity idolizes, is looking for research assistants, and Felicity is sure that someone as forward-thinking as her hero would be willing to take her on. However, Platt is in Germany, preparing to wed Felicity’s estranged childhood friend, Johanna. Not only is Felicity reluctant to open old wounds, but she also has no money to make the trip.

Luckily, a mysterious young woman is willing to pay Felicity’s way, so long as she’s allowed to travel with Felicity disguised as her maid. In spite of her suspicions, Felicity agrees, but once the girl’s true motives are revealed, Felicity becomes part of a perilous quest that leads them from the German countryside to the promenades of Zurich to secrets lurking beneath the Atlantic.

Series Review: The Memoirs of Lady Trent

a natural history of dragons lady trentA Natural History of Dragons / The Tropic of Serpents / Voyage of the Basilisk / In The Labyrinth of Drakes / Within the Sanctuary of Wings
by Marie Brennan
Fictional Memoirs
300-350 pages each
Published 2013 / 2014 / 2015 / 2016 / 2017

I had been drooling over this series for quite some time. Every time I went to my local game store, I’d paw through their small fiction bookshelf, and these were always on it. I finally found the first four all at once at the library, and seized the chance. (I had to request the fifth.) I did not regret it. These are fantastic.

tropic of serpents lady trentThe Memoirs of Lady Trent, as one can expect, are told from the viewpoint of Isabella Camherst, who becomes Lady Trent partway through the books. (But since they are written as her memoirs, she is “remembering” back to her adventures before she became part of the peerage.) Lady Trent’s world is analogous to our own Victorian age, except they have dragons, and she is fascinated by them. In the first book, she maneuvers her husband, also an amateur scholar of dragons, into joining an expedition to go study mountain drakes, and manages to get herself brought along. That begins her career.

The representation in these books is excellent for the time period they are based on! In the second book we get an asexual character, who turns into a side character for much of the rest of the series. (In figuring herself out, she mentions she had also tried the affections of women before realizing she didn’t want that, either.) In the third we get a culture with a third gender, and mention from Lady Trent of men who love men back home.

lady trent voyage of the basiliskI actually quite enjoyed how these books treated other cultures. We see a lot of effects from Scirling (British) colonialism, but Lady Trent herself sees other cultures as interesting things to study and become part of temporarily, not as “savages” that need to be “civilized” (or just used) as so many Victorian-age naturalists did. (And, indeed, how the Scirling military sees them.) Her ultimate goal is always the dragons, but if that means becoming part of a jungle or island tribe, and tending camp and hunting and traveling as the villagers do, then that is what she does. I could see the argument for painting Lady Trent as a white savior figure, but if she wasn’t part of one of the dominant cultures in this world, she wouldn’t have the means or access for all the different adventures described in the books. I suppose she could have been Akhian or Yengalese. (Arabian or Chinese, respectively, the other two dominant cultures.) She also forms genuine friendships with the people she lives among, and tries to do her best by them.

I enjoyed the introduction of the Akhian archeologist, and how that helped pull the focus of the books a little bit more onto the ancient culture of Draconeans, who Lady Trent had been largely uninterested in before. He soon became one of my favorite characters, so I was quite happy to see the events of the fourth book take Lady Trent to Akhia.

The fifth book unveiled quite a few surprises. We get to learn a lot more about the Draconeans, which was really cool. They also presented a culture with allowance for group marriage; at one point a villager asks Lady Trent if all four men she’s travelling with are her husbands!

The five books altogether were a really interesting progression in the history of the study of dragons, and I quite enjoyed them. They were definitely unique.

From the cover of A Natural History of Dragons:

Marie Brennan begins a thrilling new fantasy series in A Natural History of Dragons, combining adventure with the inquisitive spirit of the Victorian Age.

“You, dear reader, continue at your own risk. It is not for the faint of heart—no more so than the study of dragons itself. But such study offers rewards beyond compare: to stand in a dragon’s presence, even for the briefest of moments—even at the risk of one’s life—is a delight that, once experienced, can never be forgotten. . . .”

All the world, from Scirland to the farthest reaches of Eriga, know Isabella, Lady Trent, to be the world’s preeminent dragon naturalist. She is the remarkable woman who brought the study of dragons out of the misty shadows of myth and misunderstanding into the clear light of modern science. But before she became the illustrious figure we know today, there was a bookish young woman whose passion for learning, natural history, and, yes, dragons defied the stifling conventions of her day.

Here at last, in her own words, is the true story of a pioneering spirit who risked her reputation, her prospects, and her fragile flesh and bone to satisfy her scientific curiosity; of how she sought true love and happiness despite her lamentable eccentricities; and of her thrilling expedition to the perilous mountains of Vystrana, where she made the first of many historic discoveries that would change the world forever.

Book Review: The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue

gentleman's guide to vice and virtueThe Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue
Mackenzi Lee
YA Historical Fiction
513 pages
Published 2017

This was excellent! First, all the diversity here – between the bisexual main character, his best friend, who is biracial, has an “invisible” disability, and also likes men (or at least likes Monty!) and his seemingly asexual sister – the book covers so many facets, it’s great.

Given that it’s historical fiction, set in Victorian Europe, Percy’s biracial heritage has him just seen as black to most people they encounter. Monty doesn’t seem to understand what that means, most of the time, and is a little blinded by his rich white boy privilege. He gets talked to a couple of times about how he’s being blind to the problems his friend is facing.

I liked that we got to peek under Monty’s playboy facade a few times, when being punched has him flashing back to being beaten by his father for being a “disappointment.” An interaction between him and a pirate captain was particularly sweet, teaching him to fight back because he’s worth defending.

I LOVE Felicity, Monty’s sister, and I’m really eager to read her story in the sequel to this book, The Lady’s Guide to Petticoats and Piracy. She is so badass, and incredibly intelligent.

The writing was fun, the action well-paced, and the dialogue clever. I was a little put off at first by the size of the book, but I flew through it quickly. I especially liked Monty’s bisexuality – how he just cheerfully perved on practically everyone his age. It definitely reminded me of a few people I know!

Something that I noted, near the end of the book, was Percy not asking Monty to stop his perving. What he said was “if you ever go behind my back…” which implies as long as Percy knows, it’s not an issue. Yay for non-monogamy being present in YA! It’s nice to see alternative relationship structures being presented, though I wish it had been more than just implied.

This was an excellent read for Pride Month, and I loved the amount of diversity and intersectionality present in it. You can find the rest of my Pride Month reads listed here.

From the cover of The Gentleman’s Guide to Vice and Virtue:

Henry “Monty” Montague was born and bred to be a gentleman, but he was never one to be tamed. The finest boarding schools in England and the constant disapproval of his father haven’t been able to curb any of his roguish passions – not for gambling halls, late nights spent with a bottle of spirits, or waking up in the arms of women or men.

But as Monty embarks on his Grand Tour of Europe, his quest for a life filled with pleasure and vice is in danger of coming to an end. Not only does his father expect him to take over the family’s estate upon his return, but Monty is also nursing an impossible crush on his best friend and traveling companion, Percy.

Still, it isn’t in Monty’s nature to give up. Even with his younger sister, Felicity, in tow, he vows to make this yearlong escapade one last hedonistic hurrah and flirt with Percy from Paris to Rome. But when one of Monty’s reckless decisions turns their trip abroad into a harrowing manhunt that spans across Europe, it calls into question everything he knows, including his relationship with the boy he adores.