Review: Last Night at the Telegraph Club, by Malinda Lo

Finally got around to reading Last Night at the Telegraph Club, after months of wanting to! 1950s historical novels aren’t my main interest, but I do like queer romances, especially historical ones (though I veer closer to the 1800s) so I was intrigued. It’s kinda hard to get around here, but the library is well-stocked so I took advantage!

The Synopsis

A story of love and duty set in San Francisco’s Chinatown during the Red Scare.

“That book. It was about two women, and they fell in love with each other.” And then Lily asked the question that had taken root in her, that was even now unfurling its leaves and demanding to be shown the sun: “Have you ever heard of such a thing?”

Seventeen-year-old Lily Hu can’t remember exactly when the question took root, but the answer was in full bloom the moment she and Kathleen Miller walked under the flashing neon sign of a lesbian bar called the Telegraph Club.

America in 1954 is not a safe place for two girls to fall in love, especially not in Chinatown. Red-Scare paranoia threatens everyone, including Chinese Americans like Lily. With deportation looming over her father—despite his hard-won citizenship—Lily and Kath risk everything to let their love see the light of day.

Continue reading…

Book review: The Wife in the Attic, by Rose Lerner

I’d had this book recommended to me a few times as a great historical sapphic romance. I had been keeping an eye on it, and by total chance I won the author’s Halloween giveaway. Given a choice of ebook or audio, I of course took the audiobook – and binged it over one weekend! So thank you Rose Lerner for the amazing audiobook! I read it very quickly in November but sadly got behind on writing the review…

The Story

Goldengrove’s towers and twisted chimneys rose at the very edge of the peaceful Weald, a stone’s throw from the poisonous marshes and merciless waters of Rye Bay. Young Tabby Palethorp had been running wild there, ever since her mother grew too ill to leave her room.

I was the perfect choice to give Tabby a good English education: thoroughly respectable and far too plain to tempt her lonely father, Sir Kit, to indiscretion.

I knew better than to trust my new employer with the truth about my past. But knowing better couldn’t stop me from yearning for impossible things: to be Tabby’s mother, Sir Kit’s companion, Goldengrove’s new mistress.

All that belonged to poor Lady Palethorp. Most of all, I burned to finally catch a glimpse of her.

Surely she could tell me who had viciously defaced the exquisite guitar in the music room, why all the doors in the house were locked after dark, and whose footsteps I heard in the night…

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.
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ARC Review: Scales and Sensibility, by Stephanie Burgis

I’ve been following Stephanie for ages on twitter and I keep telling myself I need to read her books – especially the regency ones. So when she tweeted about available ARCs for this one, I jumped on the opportunity. I mean, a Regency book, referencing Austen, but with DRAGONS? Sign me the F up!

Look at her! look at that dragon!

The Story

Sensible, practical Elinor Tregarth really did plan to be the model poor relation when she moved into Hathergill Hall. She certainly never meant to kidnap her awful cousin Penelope’s pet dragon. She never expected to fall in love with the shameless – but surprisingly sweet – fortune hunter who came to court Penelope. And she never dreamed that she would have to enter into an outrageous magical charade to save her younger sisters’ futures.

However, even the most brilliant scholars of 1817 England still haven’t ferreted out all the lurking secrets of rediscovered dragonkind…and even the most sensible of heroines can still make a reckless wish or two when she’s pushed. Now Elinor will have to find out just how rash and resourceful she can be when she sets aside all common sense. Maybe, just maybe, she’ll even be impractical enough to win her own true love and a happily ever after…with the unpredictable and dangerous “help” of the magical creature who has adopted her.

A frothy Regency rom-com full of pet dragons and magical misadventures, Scales and Sensibility is a full-length novel and the first in a new series of standalone romantic comedies.

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

As usual: I got this advanced copy for free through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

This was a short and sweet romance novel. Now, I don’t talk about it a lot but I’ve a healthy obsession for Jane Austen’s books. I may or may not own even some obscure adaptations. I’ve watched the 1995 miniseries (you know the one!) way too many times. So you give me a regency romance clearly inspired by the Lady, and I have to get it. And fantasy is also the main genre that I read. Mix the two and I’m one happy reader indeed.

I do have certain expectations when I open a regency novel, but Burgis met and exceeded them all. I like even my historical male love interests to be respectful and not sexist: check. I like my characters witty, and some amount of social commentary: check and check. I like historical accuracy to some extent, and even if dragons make that point kinda moot, I enjoyed the fact that she had small details like, oh, chamberpots hidden behind the scenes for ladies to relieve themselves during parties, to cite only my favourite. It was witty, and fun, and full of horrible people for us and the heroine to make fun of.

The whole concept gave me quite a bit of secondhand embarrassment, to be quite honest. Elinor’s dragon puts her in some embarrassing situations, or she walks right into them. But it was the kind that I was able to laugh at, and not be too embarrassed to continue reading. I also saw the “plot twist” at the end coming, but in a satisfying way. Let us say I was reminded of certain characters in Mansfield Park

The romance itself was very sweet. It was pretty quick, but I’m a person who crushes easily so I can appreciate that in a good story, and it worked with the fast pace of the novel overall. Besides, I really rooted for the two of them in general, against all the awful people around.

Honourable mention goes to Mrs Hathergill, without spoilers I can honestly say I want to be her when I grow up!

Anyways, I could not stop from about halfway through to the end, and I kicked my feet in excitement at the ending, like a little child with a present, so that should tell you how much I liked it. I want more stories like this, fun and light, but with that backdrop of social commentary that makes regency novels so great. And dragons!

The Links

I thought it was out tomorrow/Wednesday until I got an email saying it’s out today? i don’t understand time. Anyways you can order/preorder it below:

Barnes & Noble | Kobo | More links through the author’s website

ARC Review: The Merchant and the Rogue, by Sarah M. Eden

Sometimes all you want is a little bit of historical romance. I gotta say I was really into the cover with its silhouettes, it reminded me of the Invisible Library, so I had to see for myself what it was about. It turned out to be part of a series (I feel a bit clueless), but that didn’t really prevent me from enjoying it

The Story

London, 1865

Vera Sorokina loves reading the Penny Dreadfuls and immersing herself in tales of adventure, mystery, and romance. Her own days are filled with the often mundane work of running the book and print shop she owns with her father. The shop offers her freedom and an income, and while she is grateful for the stability it brings to her life, she often feels lonely.

Brogan Donnelly was born and raised in Ireland, but has lived in London for several years, where he’s built a career as a penny dreadful writer. He has dedicated himself to the plight of the poor with the help of his sister. But with no one to share his life with, he fears London will never truly feel like home.

Brogan and Vera’s paths cross, and the attraction is both immediate and ill-advised. Vera knows from past experience that writers are never to be trusted, and Brogan has reason to suspect not everything at Vera’s print shop is aboveboard. When a growing criminal enterprise begins targeting their area of London, Brogan and Vera must work together to protect the community they’ve both grown to love. But that means they’ll need to learn to trust each other with dangerous secrets that have followed both of them from their home countries.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

I was given an advanced copy through Netgalley in exchange for a fair review.

This is basically a cosy romance with a side of adventure, with a side of nested dolls. You get three stories in one, as the main narrative is interspersed with chapters from two penny dreadfuls.

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Review: Hellion’s Waltz, by Olivia Waite

Olivia Waite’s Georgian sapphic romance series, Feminine Pursuits, are one of the very few books that are an instant buy for me. I did this with Waspish Widows, and I did it again with Hellion’s Waltz, and no regrets! I’d do the same for another 10 more in the series.

Louxor likes to check out every book that comes into this house. It’s his now!

The Story

It’s not a crime to steal a heart…

Sophie Roseingrave hates nothing more than a swindler. After her family lost their piano shop to a con man in London, they’re trying to start fresh in a new town. Her father is convinced Carrisford is an upright and honest place, but Sophie is not so sure. She has grave suspicions about silk-weaver Madeline Crewe, whose stunning beauty doesn’t hide the fact that she’s up to something.

All Maddie Crewe needs is one big score, one grand heist to properly fund the weavers’ union forever. She has found her mark in Mr. Giles, a greedy draper, and the entire association of weavers and tailors and clothing merchants has agreed to help her. The very last thing she needs is a small but determined piano-teacher and composer sticking her nose in other people’s business. If Sophie won’t be put off, the only thing to do is to seduce her to the cause.

Will Sophie’s scruples force her to confess the plot before Maddie gets her money? Or will Maddie lose her nerve along with her heart? 

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

It’s really hard for me to review this with more than *incoherent screaming*. I loved it just as much as the previous ones in the series.

This time we’re following a piano teacher and a ribbon maker, and I really enjoy that we keep looking at more trades women were involved in at the time – and again more working class than the first book would’ve let on. We’re once more looking at unions (or lack thereof – I learned that the UK outlawed unions for a few years in the 19th century), and how workers help each other and strive for better rights. In this case, by conning the horrible capitalist man who’s been stealing from them for years. So that part of the plot was tremendously satisfying!

Continue reading…

Review: A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian

I mostly read SF or fantasy, but I also enjoy a good queer romance or mystery once in a while. So this year I’m trying to expand my reading to cover a bit more of that (if it’s a SFF romance or mystery it’s even better!) and I’d been looking for more regency/historical F/F. I’ve been recommended this novella a few times, and enjoyed Unmasked by the Marquess by the same author, so I thought I’d give it a go!

The Story

A seductive thief

Lady’s maid Molly Wilkins is done with thieving—and cheating and stabbing and all the rest of it. She’s determined to keep her hands to herself, so she really shouldn’t be tempted to seduce her employer’s prim and proper companion, Alice. But how can she resist when Alice can’t seem to keep her eyes off Molly?

Finds her own heart

For the first time in her life, Alice Stapleton has absolutely nothing to do. The only thing that seems to occupy her thoughts is a lady’s maid with a sharp tongue and a beautiful mouth. Her determination to know Molly’s secrets has her behaving in ways she never imagined as she begins to fall for the impertinent woman.

Has been stolen

When an unwelcome specter from Alice’s past shows up unexpectedly at a house party, Molly volunteers to help the only way she knows how: with a little bit of mischief.

The Review

Rating: 4 out of 5.

Trigger warnings – sexual abuse, emotional/physical abuse, alcoholism

This novella is part of a bigger series, but it read perfectly fine as a standalone. My main complaint is that it is on the short side, and I’d have liked a bit more detailed/longer pining.

The romance itself is sweet and fun, with both leads unsure if their feelings are really reasonable, considering their positions.

Alice’s backstory is quite dark, hence the content warnings, but I liked how that was handled. Molly fully believes her, and supports her, which for me was the turning point in rooting for their relationship. There’s also a bit of revenge going on, which in the current context was quite cathartic, I’ve got to say. Without spoiling, I can say the ending was quite satisfying and made me really happy – beyond the usual Happy Ever After that you expect from a romance.

I also really enjoy historical romance that’s not just about the dukes and earls and whatnot, but about the common people, and the poorer among the gentry, so this ticked quite a lot of boxes for me.

I just hope Cat Sebastian writes more women loving women stories. I’ll be here waiting for them, anyway!

The Links

Amazon* | Portal Bookshop | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows

Right so now that I’ve (finally!) posted a review of Celestial Mechanics I can tell you all about the next book in the series. It’s pretty much a standalone except one of the two leads had a tiny role in the first book, and you’ll see Eliza (one of the maids to Lady Catherine in the first book, turned engraver’s apprentice here) quite a bit but she’s not the main focus.

Mostly it follows the same themes as the first (independent women, doing their own thing! and falling in love!) but this time with printing and bees! I’ve been quite obsessed with bees during first lockdown (this guy’s videos are just… so soothing??) so it was really enjoyable to learn a bit more about it from a historical perspective. And I also learned quite a bit about the period at the end of Regency, beginning of George IV’s reign, which was really new to me.

This is how I spent Valentine’s Day weekend

The Story

When Agatha Griffin finds a colony of bees in her warehouse, it’s the not-so-perfect ending to a not-so-perfect week. Busy trying to keep her printing business afloat amidst rising taxes and the suppression of radical printers like her son, the last thing the widow wants is to be the victim of a thousand bees. But when a beautiful beekeeper arrives to take care of the pests, Agatha may be in danger of being stung by something far more dangerous…

Penelope Flood exists between two worlds in her small seaside town, the society of rich landowners and the tradesfolk. Soon, tensions boil over when the formerly exiled Queen arrives on England’s shores—and when Penelope’s long-absent husband returns to Melliton, she once again finds herself torn, between her burgeoning love for Agatha and her loyalty to the man who once gave her refuge.

As Penelope finally discovers her true place, Agatha must learn to accept the changing world in front of her. But will these longing hearts settle for a safe but stale existence or will they learn to fight for the future they most desire?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

I finally found some time to read this book I’ve been meaning to read since I received it. And once I got started, I couldn’t really stop… Once again I was impressed by how good Olivia Waite’s writing is. I wasn’t sure I’d really care about Agatha Griffin as a MC/love interest, from the glimpse we had of her in Celestial Mechanics. Don’t get me wrong, I liked her as a character, but she probably would not have been my first choice. And yet this worked amazingly well.

I think one of the main things that make this work is that Agatha is basically all business, she’s a 40something widow who’s got to take care of a busy printershop that her son’s not ready to take over, she’s got to deal with censorship/sedition laws while wanting to print political (and financially profitable) materials, and she’s got bees??? invading her warehouse. So she’s a grumpy woman, but with a good few reasons to be grumpy, and not a Darcy-like highbrow character (don’t get me wrong I love Darcy but the man’s ego could deflate a bit when we first meet him) and I loved how she goes from “freaking scared of bees” to “hey let’s go and tour the beehives” basically.

And the romance, let me tell you about the romance! I was squealing in glee about 20 pages in because it gets epistolary and you can see them (well, Agatha) having an existential crisis over every word, and you can see their relationship develop in as little as the way they address each other! It’s magnificent. And down to the last 20 pages or so, you’re not fully sure what’s going to happen (though there’s lots of happiness in the middle pages too!) so it was a wild ride from start to finish.

There was a much stronger backdrop of politics, which makes sense when you’re talking about a printer’s that’s doing pamphlets and etchings of news events, and all that. It complemented the story rather than distracted from it – gave characters motives and things to thrive for. It also brought in sharp relief the issue of women’s, and queer people’s, position in a society where a certain conduct is expected of you and everything could ruin your reputation, or if you’re a gay man, bring you the death penalty. It was brought up subtly, but it was definitely there, in the bigoted characters that Penelope Flood especially had to be confronted with.

It also made it extra-satisfying when the bigots were thwarted. And once again Olivia Waite does that so successfully in part because she doesn’t just show you a couple, but a community. Penelope’s old friends Isabella and Joanna, with their erotic sapphic poetry and sexy sculptures, the radical young girl who thinks marriage is a prison and women should be allowed to vote, the radical (and bisexual) Mrs Koskinen who’s into organizing protests, Penelope’s brother and his practically-husband who’ve carved a life with each other…

I loved the romance part of it – that’s why I got it! – but what sets this novel apart for me, and puts Olivia Waite on my automatic-buy list, really is that sense of community, and of acceptance for queer characters, which it feels so good to read in a historical novel. And all this masterfully done without erasing any of the bigotry of the time, just showing people like us triumph over it.

Get the book

Amazon UK* | Waterstones | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you

Review: Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

As I was reading The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows over the weekend, I thought it might be good to start with the review of Celestial Mechanics which I read a bit under a year ago. It was something like April/May and the middle of the first lockdown, and it kickstarted my reading again. I meant to share my review from last year then realised I did not write any??? I’ve been thinking about this book on and off since, I basically jumped on Waspish Widows when it got published, and I’ll jump on the next one too. So I really have to write a review!

I’ve been a fan of Jane Austen since I was a teen but I did not really read much more regency romance than that because what I found available was always… disappointingly straight. This is the book that convinced me to give romance novels another try, and it’s led me to many more good books in the past year!

The Story

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?

The Review

Rating: 5 out of 5.

So apparently last year I wrote “I’ll need to stew in it a little bit before i can write a full review but the short of it is, I absolutely loved it!!” in my goodreads updates and then proceeded NOT to write a full review. Oops.

One thing I can say is that it’s still a full 5 stars a year on, and I recommend it to anyone who says the words queer, f/f, romance, or regency within earshot. To be honest it’s got everything I love, two fierce women who’re each different and independent and learn to work with one another despite some uh, early conflicts. Learning to work around each other’s past and traumas, as well. But also, a Regency novel that doesn’t just show women being idle and rich, but going about doing their thing, whether it’s art or writing or embroidery or printing. It’s very much about what you can do with the power you have.

Lucy’s work to translate a very scientific book (and make it accessible to women) makes the men around her, especially the astronomers and physicists of the Royal Society (or whatever it’s called in the book) bristle because How Dare A Woman Do Science, right? But the two women (and some allies) work together to make them eat their words.

And it’s not just about the rich countess or the scholar, but also working women around them – the handmaid who’s worried she’ll be dismissed because she’s not white and her lady seems to have found someone she gets along with better, the very young maid who draws in her spare time, the printer’s shop where the printer’s wife does most of the engraving… it gives a much more complete picture than you usually get. And you can clearly see the author is conscious of race issues as well as class and gender, and nothing’s brushed under the rug.

The writing is amazing, it reads very quickly but it’s also intricate and poetic, and when it comes to the technicalities you know Waite did her research. I absolutely loved the explanations on astronomy but also embroidery. As someone who loves embroidery, I really enjoyed the discussions about the differences between art and craft, and how women’s work is often swept under the rug, as it were, even though it’s just as beautiful, inspired, and full of craft(wo)manship as any artist’s painting. But it’s not there for argument’s sake, it’s tied to the characters and their struggles and their idea of self-worth.

Which brings me to the romance… I loved it! I really loved both main characters, groaned when they were being stubborn, shook my head, and all that. Both women are highly relatable in their own ways, but in hindsight what really made me appreciate this book was just how gentle and respectful they were of each other, and how they worked with Catherine’s past trauma, and Lucy’s fears, and made a relationship that truly worked for them. And I also really appreciate that the author made sure they weren’t the only queer characters in the story, but there were other queer women, showing that this is an intrinsic part of society and our two leads have a community to fit in rather than being alone.

Get the Book

Amazon (UK)* | Portal Bookshop (UK) | or listen to it on Scribd*

*these are affiliate links, I may receive a small commission (or a free month on Scribd) for purchases made through these links, at no extra cost to you