Saturday, October 22, 2022

Book Review: A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang

A Gentleman's Murder by Christopher Huang
Adult historical mystery
July 2018

October, 1924. When the newest member of Eric Peterkin's London club is found stabbed to death in the vault below the club building, Eric throws himself into a quest for the truth. Treading a maze of missing nurses, morphine addiction, and shell shock, Eric soon finds that though the Great War may be over, its shadows still linger; and sometimes, they fester....

I picked this one up because I heard this interview with the author on my favorite podcast, Shedunnit, and what he said about growing up in Singapore as a British Golden Age mystery fan was really interesting. As he discusses in that episode, part of his intention in writing this Eric Peterkin series (I hope it will be a series!) is to put characters who look like him into his favorite genre of books. Eric has a white British father and Chinese immigrant mother, and Huang does a good job of showing how racism affects both Eric's life and that of his sister (as she faces different stereotypes about Asian women and therefore some different dangers than he does as a man), as well as the ways Asian characters are portrayed in the crime novels and films of the time. I love seeing a wider variety of diverse characters in historical fiction, especially when it's done so thoughtfully and deliberately.

The mystery itself here is well-plotted with a good sense of fair play - I was very proud of myself for picking up on certain clues disguised as throwaway bits of dialogue. Huang's descriptions of the world of his characters and the minutiae of their daily lives are a particular strength, as is the way he illustrates the myriad ways World War I changed society in general and individuals in particular, especially in regards to shell shock and the mental health of veterans. That said, my one quibble was with the way addiction was treated - it's generally shown correctly as a disease that here is often a result of the war, either directly (wounded soldiers given morphine) or indirectly (self-medicating because of unaddressed PTSD), but then at certain points it's treated as a vice or moral failing. It's realistic for certain characters to think or talk of it that way, of course, but this odd dichotomy continues in the author's note and I'd have liked it to make clear that this was an incorrect and outdated view.

Overall, though, this is definitely worth a read for Golden Age mystery fans, and I will definitely give Huang's next book a try!

Author's Site | Amazon | Bookshop

Thursday, October 13, 2022

Book Review: The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann

The Romantic Agenda by Claire Kann
Adult queer contemporary romance
Berkley Romance/Penguin Random House
April 12, 2022

Thirty, flirty, and asexual Joy is secretly in love with her best friend Malcolm, but she’s never been brave enough to say so. When he unexpectedly announces that he’s met the love of his life—and no, it’s not Joy—she’s heartbroken. Malcolm invites her on a weekend getaway, and Joy decides it’s her last chance to show him exactly what he’s overlooking. But maybe Joy is the one missing something…or someone…and his name is Fox.

Fox sees a kindred spirit in Joy—and decides to help her. He proposes they pretend to fall for each other on the weekend trip to make Malcolm jealous. But spending time with Fox shows Joy what it’s like to not be the third wheel, and there’s no mistaking the way he makes her feel. Could Fox be the romantic partner she’s always deserved?

As an ace spec (asexual spectrum) person who loves romance novels, I read and enjoy plenty of books about allosexual people, and that's always just been the norm - I like sex scenes as long as they seem specific to the characters (not true of all aces, to be clear), and just get kinda bored when they read like just descriptions of what's happening for the sake of it, sometimes roll my eyes a bit when the characters are going on about how sexy the other lead is, especially when it's very focused on specific physical attributes. But mostly it's like dragons or spaceships or all the other things I like fine in books without needing them to exist in my own life. But even though it doesn't bother me in other books, the lack of focus on sexual attraction as the relationship in The Romantic Agenda progressed was so striking, and sort of . . . refreshing? Like "oh yeah, I don't necessarily HAVE to read a bunch of stuff I don't relate to in order to read a love story." (Honestly that sounds too negative about other books but I'm not sure how else to put it. I love other romances too! Obviously!) It was just . . . nice to get that for once, and I got surprisingly emotional about it. News flash: Representation matters.

If the above paragraph made you think "Wait, what are you talking about?" then good news: Kann weaves some great explanations around asexuality (and a few different kinds of ace experiences) into this book without seeming preachy, so I'd definitely recommend it to people who'd like to learn more.

And in addition to all that, The Romantic Agenda included a bunch of things I love in romances, including fake dating (one of the best tropes!!), social media stardom, baking, and really great conversations between the leads. I also liked that it didn't have a Big Bad Thing happen that needed to be resolved at the very end - those can work in romances but I often prefer romances that just . . . skip it. People can work through their feelings and issues and have plenty of plot without a giant misunderstanding or breakup or other relationship crisis.

Kann's writing is funny and keeps things moving while not shying away from serious topics and real introspection, and her characterizations are so vivid and feel like real people with real dreams and problems and occasionally annoying traits. I really enjoyed her YA novel Let's Talk About Love as well, and I will definitely be reading more of her books.

Author's Site | Amazon | Bookshop

Wednesday, October 12, 2022

Hello again!

Hello out there! It's been a while! I'm resurrecting this old blog because I want somewhere to post book reviews. I'm not going to commit to a specific schedule, as I'm sure that will just set myself up to fail, so let's just say I'm planning to post frequently. If you'd rather get links to these reviews in a digest email, subscribe to my tinyletter, where I will periodically round up these reviews and maybe some brief thoughts on other books I've read that didn't get their own post.

As far as what I will be reviewing - I read a pretty wide variety, lots of mystery and romance, some YA and fantay and sci fi and whatever else catches my attention. Lots of queer stuff. I'll probably try to focus on reviewing newer releases, but will throw some older new-to-me books in too when I feel like I have something to say about them.

If you have a new or upcoming book you want me to review, send me an email.

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Welcome (back)! Thanks for reading!