reading list

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 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.