Reading List

Reading List

5 queer artists from the 1920s you should know about

In honor of Pride Month, here is an abbreviated list of five badass queer people who were prolific in the 1920s and beyond. They were groundbreaking and brilliant, and all of them surrounded by queer friends and lovers and communities.

History is a marvelous warren of changing social mores. When we talk about queer rights let's never forget that queer people have always been out and about and making art, damn the consequences.

1. Bessie Smith (1895 - 1937)

Bessie Smith was an absolute blues legend, Notorious Bisexual and noted Person Who Didn't Give A Shit what people thought of her. Of her singing, a reviewer said "That wasn't a voice [...], it was a flamethrower licking out across the room."

Langston Hughes said that Smith's songs expressed sadness "not softened with tears but hardened with laughter; the absurd, incongruous laughter of a sadness without even a god to appeal to."

Basically, her voice was so powerful that it compelled people to write equally powerful sentences.

Despite her success, she didn't have a terribly happy life. She grew up poor and sang on the street for money. Even then her talent was noted, and by 1923 she recorded her first single. It sold 2 million copies in six months and catapulted Smith to legendary status.

Smith dealt with horrendous racist bullshit throughout her career. Notably she stood up for her darker-skinned chorus girls when a manger wanted them replaced with lighter dancers. At the peak of her fame she transported her whole company in a private railway car so that they wouldn't have to risk looking for lodging in the south, which was often a dangerous and difficult prospect for black performers, who were welcomed onstage and abused off it.

 Smith in the 1920s

Smith in the 1920s

She was a contemporary of many other incredible black women singers like Ma Rainey, Alberta Hunter, Gladys Bentley and Ethel Waters — all of whom were also queer.

One story from her niece says she bailed Ma Rainey out of jail after Rainey was arrested for cavorting with naked women, which is frankly A REALLY GREAT STORY.

She was unfortunately saddled with a shitty, abusive husband, who she ditched multiple times throughout her life. She had affairs with a few of her chorus girls, and basically enjoyed a good horny party — she was friends with the proprietress of a Detroit buffet flat, who had a place for Smith whenever she rolled into town.


2. Richard Bruce Nugent (1906 - 1987)

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Nugent was a writer and painter, and part of the social group that frequented Gumby's Bookstore in Harlem. The owner, Alexander Gumby, was a gay black man and historian, and the bookstore was patronized by the most brilliant minds of the Harlem Renaissance — people like Countee Cullen, Alain Locke, Langston Hughes, Wallace Thurman, and Zora Neale Hurston.

In the '20s his art and writing explored sexuality, race, and gender, and the ways they intersected. His poem "Shadow" was supposedly pulled out of a trash can by Langston Hughes (would that we all could say the same about our writing that we hate...), and has been interpreted as an allusion to race, or an allusion to sexuality, but let's be real it's probably all of of the above.

Nugent was also a dancer and an actor because sometimes people are really good at everything!!! That's just how it is!!


3. - 4. Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap (1886 - 1973, 1883 - 1964)

 Margaret Anderson photographed by Man Ray, of course.

Margaret Anderson photographed by Man Ray, of course.

Margaret Anderson and Jane Heap are one of my favorite historical couples. From All-Night Party:

By day, Margaret and Jane swam and rode horses like seasoned wranglers, [...]. By night they worked on the Little Review by the glow of a kerosene lamp. Jane drew cartoons and Margaret played the piano on a Steinway she'd secured from a shop in San Francisco at no cost. They ate fudge for breakfast and lolled about until noon. They talked endlessly, incessantly. Their talk began at lunch and climaxed at tea. By dinner they were "staggering with it." By five the next morning they were "unconscious but still talking," said Margaret. "This was what I had been waiting for all my life"

Their whole lives are unbelievable like that.

Margaret Anderson puts shame to the idea that historical women were ever obedient. She described herself as a "perfectly nice but revolting girl," moved alone to Chicago as a young adult, spent money so recklessly that her family cut her off, and used her extremely powerful personality to fund a revolutionary literary magazine: the Little Review.

She spent summers living in a tent city that she built on the shores of Lake Michigan. She and Jane Heap moved to California and then New York, and they entertained ... literally everyone. She was uncompromising in her views on art, and avant garde as hell.

 Jane Heap looking dapper as hell.

Jane Heap looking dapper as hell.

Jane was handsome, dressed in suits, and had a dangerous wit. Her columns in the Review were published only under her initials, "jh."

In 1921 both women were charged with obscenity for publishing James Joyce's Ulysses as a serial in the Review (among many other poems and stories that were considered obscene — Ulysses was just one of many that got people wound up).

Heap took over publication of the magazine in 1924, and the women separated, though they stayed in touch throughout their lives. The Little Review closed in 1929.

Heap spent the rest of her life in London, where she became the lover of Elspeth Champcommunal, the first editor of Vogue Britain. Basically she was a boss, and everyone wanted a piece of her.


5. Ivor Novello (1893 - 1951)

Ivor Novello was a composer and actor and extremely hot person. He was an incredibly popular entertainer: there's a songwriting and composing award named for him, and his funeral procession was attended by thousands.

It seems like Novello knew just about everybody. His list of friends is a Who's Who of influential queer men of the era: Siegfriend Sassoon, Noel Coward, Cecil Beaton, Tom Driberg, Evelyn Waugh, Somerset Maugham... need I go on.

The great thing about Ivor Novello is that it's more likely than not that he boned down with all of them. I love me a slutty, beloved historical figure.

Novello was a big silent film star in the '20s, but in later life he was far more well-known for his music. Of casting him, director Adrian Brunel said, "the problem was to find someone as beautiful as Ivor to play opposite him."

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In 1916 he met Bobbie Andrews, who would be his primary partner until Novello's death. He remained a massive flirt throughout his life, and had relationships with many men. As noted in Sassoon's biography, Novello "collected lovers as he gathered lilacs." ("We'll Gather Lilacs" is, of course, one of his popular songs.)

Here's an absurd anecdote about him wearing a kilt:

 He fancied himself in a kilt.

He fancied himself in a kilt.

When he was co-starring opposite Gladys Cooper in Bonnie Prince Charlie (1923), he liked his kilt so much, he wouldn't take it off, even when he wasn't shooting. Cooper warned him that the locals resented his appropriation of their national costume. Several hundred hostile Scots followed him throughout shooting on the isle of Arran. "But I wouldn't have cared if there had been thousands," he later told the News of the World. "I fancied myself in my kilt!"

 

Happy pride, y'all. :)

 

Reading List

A couple queer TV recommendations

I've been swimming in good TV this past month and there's more on the way (please ... new season of Great British Bake-Off...). But there are two shows I want to recommend purely on the basis of their starring or featuring queer women characters!

They both pretty dark, but they delighted me so if you're into dark shit you might like them too.

Killing Eve

BBCA | 8 episodes

Killing Eve follows Eve Polastri (Sandra Oh), an MI5 agent who has a lil' obsession with female assassins. There aren't that many! Exciting! She's thrown immediately and delightfully into conflict with Villanelle (Jodie Comer) a ... female assassin! Of particular viciousness!

As Caroline Framke wrote for Vox:

It feels too cutesy — or at the very least, too reductive — to call the meticulous, curious, and even sexy way Eve and Villanelle circle each other a “cat-and-mouse game.” If anything, both are cats — Eve domestic, Villanelle feral — recognizing the other from across a crowded room, slinking around the edges, waiting to see who pounces first.

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Killing Eve is dark and violent, but it's also got a perfect edge of humor to it. The characters are funny and awkward, and Sandra Oh in particular has an everywoman clumsiness that is endearing as hell.

Oh wait, what makes this queer? Villanelle is multisexual, as revealed very early in the series. She's also obsessed with Eve. And as pointed out by one of Eve's coworkers in the second episode, Eve's intensity in her pursuit of Villanelle crosses the line from professional to something else. The way it plays out could easily have fallen into a creepy evil lesbian trope, but in my experience I found that Killing Eve neatly avoided it. Maybe I was just too enthused to see such a character as unapologetically self-possessed, ruthless, and amoral as Villanelle.

All in all, I'm just thrilled that there's a spy thriller all about competent women who are fucking obsessed with each other.

Picnic At Hanging Rock

Amazon Prime | 6 episodes

The 2018 adaptation of the eponymous 1967 has had to deal with the specter of what I'm told is a very good film, also called Picnic At Hanging Rock from 1975. The film was called "languorous, woozy, dipped in honey," by Rachel Syme at the New Republic (that link LARGE spoilers for all versions of Hanging Rock), and the Amazon series ... well, it's about as over the top as a show can be.

And I fucking love it.

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The colors are bonkers, the costumes elaborate and beautiful. There's at least one scene that I was convinced was a dream sequence because it was so unreal, but nope! It wasn't! It's so visually compelling that I find it hard to look away. Everything is drama, beauty, and strangeness turned up to 11.

The story is about a group of boarding school girls who go on a Valentine's Day picnic in 1900. The picnic is at a natural formation called Hanging Rock, and during the day a group of girls climb the rock and go missing. The rest of the story is spent trying to uncover what happened to them.

If you like mysteries, hints of the supernatural, and generous shots of girls in corsets touching each other, this is the show for you! I especially enjoyed the interactions between the clique of girls who climb the rock. The dynamic between them reminded me of the main characters from Libba Bray's A Great And Terrible Beauty. We get the sense that these are the popular, powerful girls in the school — the ones that are pretty or smart or rich and that you otherwise don't want to fuck with. But at the same time we see how protective they are of each other, and how vulnerable they ultimately are. They're young women shipped off to school with a cruel headmistress, expected to conform — or suffer the consequences.

I liked that the show respected that complex duality — power and vulnerability — of these young women. Picnic is one of those stories where you get the sense no one is going to leave happily, but you can enjoy the buttload of sexual tension and implication and longing along the way.

Additional reading:

Killing Eve:

  • Killing Eve had "better viewership gains than any scripted show has seen in a decade." - Wired
  • "If executed poorly, [Killing Eve] could have fallen prey to age-old issues dealing with LGBTQ representation on-screen, like queerbaiting or male-fantasy lesbianism. Yet even with its shocking finale this weekend, Killing Eve escaped those criticisms entirely, thanks to a few specific choices" - The Verge (MAJOR SPOILERS FOR THE WHOLE SEASON)
  • "21 Times “Killing Eve” Depicted Lesbian Relationship Scenarios With Dead-On Accuracy" - Autostraddle (ALSO SPOILERS)

Picnic At Hanging Rock:

  • "For better, and for worse, the 2018 Picnic At Hanging Rock has no compunctions about wrenching up its petticoats and exposing those ankles to the elements." - The AV Club 
  • "Take away the corsets, and the fact that there are horses and not cars, and it’s like, you try and stand up as a woman and be true to who you are. It’s still pretty tough.” - Picnic showrunner Larysa Kondracki to Screen Daily
  • Also from the same piece: "The director went for a Stanley Kubrick-influenced visual style, with heavily saturated colors and carefully composed framing, and a tone that owes something to teen movies of the eighties."
  • "It’s such a feast for the eyeballs… ‘Stylized’ means making it feel high-fashiony, weird, it’s like there’s something a bit ugly about it, in a truthful way." - Picnic actress Lily Sullivan to The Daily Dot
  • "If Weir’s film was a romantic, surreal, shimmering mystery—Twin Peaks by way of John Keats—the new Hanging Rock is a more Gothic work of horror, revealing the rot that permeates the blooms of the Victorian bouquet." - The Atlantic

Reading List

Favorite books from August and September

Only slightly belated, but if anything that's because I read so many good books in these two months!

As always, here are my favorite books that I read in August and September!

Spectred Isle - KJ Charles

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How could I resist a new, 1920s-set paranormal from KJ Charles? I could never. Spectred Isle is the story of Randolph, an arcanist whose family has been destroyed by WWI, and Saul, a former archaeologist who is just trying to get by after destroying his reputation.

This book has basically everything that I look for in a KJ book: cracking dialogue, extremely poignant longing, and a neat little plot that comes together just right.

It's a perfect demonstration of the art of withholding information from the reader until the exact moment they need to know it. Flawless.

 

Everybody Behaves Badly - Leslie M.M. Blume

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The full title of this book is Everybody Behaves Badly: The True Story Behind Hemingway's Masterpiece The Sun Also Rises which like, yes, gets the message across, but at what cost?

This is one of the most addictive historical books I've read. It's basically an account of Hemingway's early life leading through publication of Sun. Including, of course, the trip that he took to Pamplona with a motley crew of so-called friends, who he then completely ripped off for his debut novel.

The writing is absolutely fantastic. I found myself cackling with glee, and forcing everyone around me to listen to excerpts that I read aloud. Blume also gives background on — and is very sympathetic to — the people that Hemingway wrote about in Sun, which was a great choice. I came out of it thinking Hemingway was an absolute dick but also loving him more than ever, so YMMV.

The Sun Also Rises - Ernest Hemingway

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Hey, guess what, reading a book about the background of The Sun Also Rises made me want to read The Sun Also Rises!

This is the story of an ex-pat war veteran named Jake Barnes, who takes a group of people to the festival of San Fermin in Pamplona. Among the festival-goers is the beautiful, magnetic Lady Brett Ashley. Half the men on the trip are in love with her, and chaos ensues.

This was the first novel Hemingway wrote, and fittingly the first one I ever read. It has some of the most stupid beautiful prose. It's also eminently readable: Hemingway wanted to have it all, and thought that Sun was the perfect middle ground between readers with low vocabulary, readers who wanted sex and gossip, and the literary elite that he was trying to impress with his trademark spare prose.

The book comes with caveats — it's super racist, and Hemingway obviously hurt a lot of real people to write it.

Only Yesterday: An Informal History of the 1920s - Frederick Lewis Allen

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If you want to learn about the 1920s in America, this is now the first book I'll recommend. Published in 1931, Only Yesterday goes theme by theme through the 20s, addressing the biggest affects on America's culture: the Red Scare, the rise of the KKK, ballyhoo journalism and syndication, the Religion of Business, Prohibition, the stock market crash, and all the little things that don't make it into less comprehensive books.

It's beautifully, poetically written, and never too academic. This is an accessible history book, and an incredibly important one. It was a joy to read. And in case you're worried about reading a contemporary book, Allen had pretty modern-day sensibilities when it comes to race and women's independence. The section on the KKK (which was wrapped into the Red Scare chapter) was nonetheless super upsetting to read just because of the subject matter.

Allen's voice is dry, funny, and personable. I loved having his take on the '20s, and I'll hold this book close for the rest of my dang life.

A Moveable Feast - Ernest Hemingway

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Yeah, I went there again. A Moveable Feast is Hemingway's own account of his early years in Paris with his first wife, Hadley. I read the restored edition, which there is some controversy about. I'd like to try reading the original as well, but I fear it's always going to be a he-said/he-said situation when it comes to A Moveable Feast.

As it is, Feast sits in a weird ground between fiction and non-fiction. Hemingway says in the closing chapter that it's not meant to be true, but he's still telling stories about real people and using their real names so... come on, dude. From reading genuine non-fiction books about him and his contemporaries, I know that he does straight-up invent or lie about some of the things in this book.

But God, it's still good. No one gets what it feels like to look back on your life and be sad like Hemingway does! He writes beautifully about Hadley and his regrets about how he fucked up their relationship. At least he takes responsibility for that. And it's a great historical perspective on what life was like in Paris at the time.

I had tried to read this book years ago and didn't enjoy it as much. I think I really benefited this time from knowing so much more about Hemingway than I did before. I have a lot of feelings about him, and this book exacerbated all of them.


Note: This post previously included a book by Santino Hassell. I can no longer recommend that book in good faith, so I've removed it from the list.

Reading List

Favorite books from June and July

It's gonna be a pretty short list this month! I've had a busy time at work and haven't gotten as much reading done as I would like. That being said, I did devour three books by Santino Hassell in about the space of a week, so... well, it's all relative.

An Unnatural Vice

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Boy oh boy, have I been anticipating this book — and yet, it doesn't disappoint. Shitty medium Justin Lazarus gets embroiled in the missing heir plot that began in An Unseen Attraction. He and journalist Nathanial Roy start off as passionate enemies—you know where this is going.

The plotting in this book was extremely tight, and reminded me pleasantly of the intricate criss-crossing from Charles' Society of Gentlemen series. Justin's inclusion in the overarching mystery was seamlessly done, and the trouble that dogs him because of it is delicious and tense. I am a big fan of the main couple as well. Justin and Nathanial clash in all the right ways.

 

What's next?

Right now I'm reading Everyone Behaves Badly, a non-fiction book about Hemingway's arrival in Paris and the drama that led to his writing The Sun Also Rises. I'm still working on Fitzgerald's The Beautiful and the Damned, and the already fantastic Gentleman's Guide to Vice and Virtue.


Note: This post previously included recommendations for books by Santino Hassell. I can no longer recommend those books in good faith, so they've been removed from the post.

Reading List

Favorite books from April and May

If you've been following me on Twitter, you know that my life was recently overtaken by a historical obsession with F. Scott Fitzgerald and every damn thing related to the 1920s.

So yes: This list has a bit of a theme. Here are my favorite books from April and May, 2017.

Editor of Genius

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If you're going to completely lose your shit over historical research into the lives of Hemingway and Fitzgerald, like I recently did, I actually recommend starting with this biography of Max Perkins. A. Scott Berg's book is widely praised, and for good reason. It's an interesting, well-written account not just of Perkins' life, but also of the lives of the authors that he worked with, from the 20s through the 40s.

Perkins was the editor for Scott Fizgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Marjorie Kinnan Rawlings, Tom Wolfe, and many others. The book includes excerpts of their letters to each other, and clear timelines of their lives. Berg provides context that I found essential to enjoying and understanding the other non-fiction books that I went on to read.

Editor of Genius also has awesome insights into the publishing industry. I loved reading about Perkins' editing, the changes that were made to books like The Great Gatsby to get it in shape for printing, and the general "how things were done" of the age. This book is definitely a keeper for me.

The Great Gatsby

A third-time read for me, and maybe I'm big cliche, but I love The Great Gatsby. Fitzgerald's prose is so beautiful, and so magical. Describing characters was one of Fitzgerald's strengths. Ironically, one of the big edits that Perkins suggested for this book was that Scott didn't describe Gatsby enough. Changes were made, and now Gatsby has some of the most incisive character descriptions I've ever read.

Two shining, arrogant eyes had established dominance over his face, and gave him the appearance of always leaning aggressively forward. Not even the effeminate swank of his riding clothes could hide the enormous power of that body — he seemed to fill those glistening boots until he strained the top lacing, and you could see a great pack of muscle shifting when his shoulder moved under his thin coat. It was a body capable of enormous leverage—a cruel body.

This book holds up, in beauty and in readability. It's one of my favorites.

Dear Scott/Dear Max

The second of my non-fiction binge books contains the collected letters between Fitzgerald and Max Perkins. Some I had already read in the Perkins biography. Here they're presented without commentary and minimal context (there are some great and useful footnotes), hence the Perkins biography feeling pretty crucial to my understanding of this book.

That being said, I love it. Certain paragraphs were cut out, which makes me feel like I have to track down the original letters just in case I missed some good dirt. I love the chatty, depressing, witty, lyrical way that Scott writes his letters. I found it sad and illuminating to see someone who is now considered one of the great American authors, openly struggling with his alcoholism, depression, and imposter syndrome. Fitzgerald is very flawed and very relatable, and I appreciate that his writing, letters included, has been so well-preserved.

The Changeover

Brief non-non-fiction break! The Changeover, by Margaret Mahy, was recommended (and bought for me) by Amanda Jean. What a fantastic book. It's the story of Laura Chant, a teenage girl whose brother is cursed, and who has to turn to the hot older boy witch in her school for help. It's incredibly well-written YA that doesn't condescend, talks honestly about sex, and magical metaphors for sex and puberty, and the prose is beautiful!

The characterization was also fantastic — I especially appreciated Laura's mother, who feels very real. And the magic in this book! It's creepy and delightful. The villain, in particular, is unforgettably horrifying.

Passing

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Nella Larsen's Passing is the 1929 story of two black women who grew up in the same neighborhood. Clare has married a white man and is passing as white, while Irene is active in the black community in Harlem. Clare Kendry is a really vivid, memorable character. Every single description of her leaps off the page. The whole book is wonderfully written, with beautiful prose and character descriptions, and it feels so alive and relevant — even 88 years after it was first written.

 

 

 

 

Fitzgerald and Hemingway - A Dangerous Friendship

The cherry on my miserable non-fiction sundae, this is the definitive book collecting the letters between Hemingway and Fitzgerald, over the course of their depressing-ass friendship. I felt that Bruccoli (who has apparently devoted his career to documenting these assholes) was very fair to both Scott and Ernest — not allowing either to be demonized, or lionized. He also doesn't let Hemingway get away with any of the inconsistencies that he introduced into the narrative of their friendship (lying about their first meetings, Scott's behavior, etc.).

I just finished this book so I'm still a little raw, but it really hit me emotionally. The Fitzgerald/Hemingway friendship was very intense, and watching it implode slowly is rough. The things they said about each other were beautiful and they were hurtful. I appreciated that Bruccoli lets the book close with excerpts of Scott's Notebooks, and every reference that he ever wrote about Hemingway. Hemingway lived 20 years longer than Scott, and spent those years writing and saying things of various levels of unkindness about him. It felt fitting to let Fitzgerald get a tiny, last hurrah in the final section of this book. 

Reading List

Favorite books from February and March

I didn't read as many books in February and March as I did in January—mostly because I'm a big cheater and started all my January books in December. So I'm shifting this to a bi-monthly reading list.

Here are some of my favorites.

An Unseen Attraction

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Unseen Attraction is the first in the SIns of the Cities trilogy from KJ Charles. It has left me eagerly awaiting to see where things are going—and with some very enthusiastic theories.

The main pairing in this book is so sweet. They're two people who are very good at their non-flashy jobs, and genuinely enjoy what they do—and they enjoy each other just as much. It felt like a fresh relationship for me as a reader, and Clem and Rowley's sweetness offset the big old ugly world that they're in perfectly.

 

 

Peter Darling

I got the best of both worlds here — I beta'd the first half of Peter Darling, and then was able to read the full (very different published version), and wow. It's a fantastic, magical, beautiful story. As beautiful as the cover is, the words inside it live up to the challenge.

It explores a trans Peter Pan coming back to Neverland and trying to figure out why he's grown up into such an asshole and no one wants to play with him anymore. Meanwhile James Hook briefly enjoys the return of his rival, and then falls rather unfortunately in love. This is a great, breezy, but emotional read.

 

 

The Lawrence Browne Affair

Cat Sebastian's second book sees the return of the STEALTH STAR OF THE FIRST BOOK, George Turner. Georgie immediately caught my attention in the way that all the best side characters do. He's clever and has questionable morals, so obviously I greatly enjoyed seeing him confront his emotions and fall in love.

There is also a Cute Dog and great neurodivergent representation in this! I can't wait for the third book in the series. Check out The Soldier's Scoundrel for the first.

 

 

 

A Gentleman in the Street

Oh, how I love Alisha Rai. Gentleman follows two embittered people who have secretly had the hots for each other for years. It has a male lead learning to embrace his wild side, and a female lead who embraced it long ago, but still carries baggage from a complicated, resentful relationship with her parents. She doesn't let it stop her from having a great fucking time, though. Akira Mori is just... ah, such a fantastic character. I loved her cameo in the Fantasy series and I was so happy to read her book.

Also, as I may have mentioned in January, Alisha Rai writes great sex scenes. Period.

 

Flight of Magpies

I reread the entire Magpie trilogy (and finally the in-between-book) shorts this year. Flight of Magpies gets a special call-out. It's a great book, and a fitting denouement for one of my favorite fictional couples. I love the way Stephen and Crane's relationship grows over the course of these three books. Their problems always feel real and pressing, and they confront them like adults. There's drama, but there's not drama.

KJ Charles' writing evolves just as much as the main pairing. I love all the Magpie books, but you can clearly see how much she grew as a writer between the first and the third. There's a lesson if you ever feel intimidated—you can work fucking hard and release beloved books, and still get even better.

Yes, Roya

Popping a graphic novel on this list because yes. A coworker sold me on this one. It's loosely based on the real poly relationship that the creator of Wonder Woman was in. It's about a young, aspiring comic strip artist who ends up falling in the lap (literally) of his role model—an older domme, and her long-term partner.

Best friends threesomes follow. It's fantastic.

 

Reading List

January's Reading List

I've set a rather modest goal of reading 30 books in 2017. I'm kind of lowballing it, but hey, anything could go wrong.

Starting now, I'll be doing monthly round-ups of my favorite reads — whether they be re-reads or new faves. These are my favorite books of January, 2017.

Stay My Fantasy

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Stay My Fantasy is the sequel to Be My Fantasya novella which was... very, very, good. Just like, super good and hot and fun, and emphasis once again on hot.

Stay follows that tradition by being hot fire all the way through. It continues the story of Elizabeth and Luca, who are desperately trying to stay away from each other, or get together, depending on who you ask. Elizabeth is a kinky, subby, clever businesswoman, and Luca will sacrifice anything to fuck the shit out of her. I wanted them to bone. All the time. And they did!

If you haven't read Alisha Rai before, pick up Be My Fantasy (and then Stay My Fantasy, because you will), and then you'll have had an irresistible, bite-sized taste of her writing.

Wanted, A Gentleman

Wanted is a Georgian roadtrip romance that is full of Charles' standard so-clever-you-need-to-read-it-twice dialogue. It is doing difficult duty of tiding me over until the release of Charles' next trilogy (and succeeding).

This book is a joyous little trip, full of emotional highs and lows. For the characters. I was consistently at an emotional high from sheer satisfaction. I was hooked from Martin St. Vincent's observation that Theo must "fuck like a tomcat," and speaking of Martin, this character is a wonderful bundle of complicated feelings and honorable convictions. Charles makes his emotional complexity look effortless. As a writer, I resent this.

Sidebar, KJ Charles is damn good at writing messed-up antiheroes and the good men that bring them to heel, and this is absolutely my jam.

The Long Way to a Small Angry Planet (Wayfarers, Book 1)

Are you craving a feel-good space opera? Here it is, my friends. Becky Chambers skillfully uses made-up sci-fi words in a way that feels real and organic rather than forced. The world she's created for Long Way makes me bitter that, as far as we know, there are is no Galactic Commons waiting for humans in space. I wish there were.

I love space stories where humans are underdogs who have to fit into a greater universe. Chambers establishes her far-future humans with different backgrounds (Martian humans, spacer humans, humans devoted to a destroyed earth), and introduces a host of alien species besides, each with their own cultures.

She's really clever about pinpointing aspects of human and alien culture that differ (for example, Aandrisks don't consider babies valuable, but humans are obsessed with them). The book is ultimately about found family and a thoroughly explored cast of characters. It's long, but it's lovely.

Sins of the Cities of the Plain

While I can't recommend this book per se (or remember which words are plural in its title), Sins is a really fascinating read. It's the sort-of autobiography of Jack Saul, who was a gay sex worker in late 1800s London. Saul is a personal hero of mine for being a fucking badass during the Cleveland Street Scandal, but this book was actually written a few years before that.

The conceit is that it's an autobiography, but it's really a litany of erotic scenes purporting to be from Saul's life — from his first fumblings with his cousin, come on, dude, to romps with Boulton and Park.

It also comes with every content warning known to man. I can't even begin to list them. But I can't overstate its importance as both a historical document—gay Victorian erotica!!—and a (likely heavily fictionalized) biography of a gay historical figure. 

Think of England

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This one is a re-read, and absolutely worth it. Think of England was the first KJ Charles book I read, and I did it in one sitting over the course of a night. This was a big feat for me; I'm not a fast reader at all.

This time around I took my time with this stupidly enjoyable story. I cannot stress this enough: every piece of dialogue in Think of England is a joy. You can hear the characters' inflections in your head, and each has a distinct voice.

Archie and Daniel are fantastic, funny characters who by all logic should never end up together — but of course they do, because their chemistry is wild and circumstances force them to trust each other.

Their gradually building relationship, sizzling tension, and witty back-and-forth make this book for me. I enjoyed it just as much a second time.