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Olivia Waite is a romance author, practicing feminist, and wide-ranging dilettante.

Sexy, sweet, and a little sad.

Cowboy Player (Cowboy Cocktail) - Mia Hopkins

{This is the third in the series, but I went in not knowing that and things were fine.}


Melody is a Filipina-American English lit grad who's just moved back to her hometown after a terrible breakup and the loss of her mother. Clark, the titular cowboy, is her closest childhood friend and a real ladies' man -- and of course, he's been in love with Mel for years. There's no surprises in the plot but there is a great deal of pleasure watching it unfold. The California foodie setting is particularly well done, and the secondary characters shine just as bright as our hero and heroine.

Lives up to all the hype.

The Fifth Season - N.K. Jemisin, Robin Miles

Suffice to say this book was brutal and beautiful and has one of the best finishes I've ever seen in fiction. The last word is a total mic drop.

Something is rotten in the state of Oregon.

The Steep and Thorny Way - Cat Winters

This 1920s retelling of Hamlet set in rural Oregon with a biracial heroine more than lives up to its premise. I have family there and was thrilled to see how true to the setting this book is -- the woods and creeks, the brambles, the sense of emptiness and isolation paired with small-town "everyone knows my business" paranoia ... It's excellently done, and it's a great background for a Hamlet retelling. Hanalee's voice is engaging and unique without going overboard on the quirkiness, and she felt like a real teenager under way more stress than she deserved. She gets anxious, and makes rash decisions, and I was pulling for her every step of the way.


Would have been five stars except that some of the threat scenes felt a little too voyeuristic -- like we were supposed to enjoy watching our main characters be hurt by the antagonists. That's a particular pet peeve of mine, but your opinion may differ.

Fresh and fun.

Hot as Hades - Alisha Rai

A rather depressing ancient myth becomes a bouncy, witty, and sizzling hot romance when Alisha Rai gets her hands on it. Pure, undiluted fun like only a great paranormal romance can deliver. I give this my Classicist's Seal of Approval.

Charming, witty, and sweetly sharp.

True Pretenses (Lively St. Lemeston Book 2) - Rose Lerner

Disclaimer: I have the privilege of being friends with Ms. Lerner, which is even more a privilege on account of how much I enjoy her books.


I love Ash and Lydia, how on some level they understand one another and on other levels it takes work to make things, well, work. I love the side characters, and the rare glimpse at aspects of Regency religious life that weren't all vicars and sermons and C of E.


I love our h/h's two brothers, both of whom are struggling with identity in different ways. I love how those struggles impact the main romance. Conflicts feel real and stark, but are plausibly surmountable: they take sacrifice and selflessness, but not magical solutions.


And knowing Rose personally means that I know this charming book -- with a Jewish con artist hero and a marriage of convenience, for those of you who love that sort of historical catnip -- had the working title Secrets and Pies.


Highly recommended.

Vivid and real, a standout erotic romance.

The Companion Contract - Solace Ames

There's a whole essay I'm itching to write about this book, but in the meantime here's a short review: this book is great and memorable and should have gotten a lot more press than it has. It's a romance with a porn star heroine and an albino multiracial rock god hero that is nevertheless one of the most grounded and relatable erotic romances I've read in years.


These characters are SO MUCH THEMSELVES; their reactions are real and the stakes are high and you are with them for every step of this emotional journey.


And the SEX. It's kinky and filthy and perfect for this couple.


Five full stars.

Super-hot and super self-aware.

Sweet Agony - Charlotte Stein

This book had me flushed and gasping. This book made me dizzy with gorgeous prose. This book, at one point, had me sobbing in recognition and sympathy -- knees tucked against chest, book on knees, hand over mouth, tears pouring down my face. It's a weird book that knows it's weird -- it's a literate, self-conscious story with only two characters, whose backstories are only hazily sketched in, but whose present life is more than vivid enough to carry me through the whole thing in a single sitting.


Five fucking stars, no question.

The rompiest romp in Rompfordshire.

Something About Emmaline - Elizabeth Boyle

I have not read a classic frothy Regency like this in some time, and it was nice to get back to what I originally loved most in the genre. The plot is an absurd tissue of implausible events that exists only to help the characters sparkle; this would be a problem if the characters here weren't so much fun to watch. We have a stuffy-but-secretly-not-so-stuffy duke hero and his pleasantly mooching best friend, we have social-climbing villains and highwaymen-turned-coach-drivers and butlers with a penchant for games of chance; we have a surfeit of my favorite Regency trope: terrifying old ladies with gimlet eyes and secretly stalwart hearts.


And we have Emmaline. Oh, it's lovely to have a con-artist heroine who is shamelessly chaotic and charismatic and who never has to atone for her past to meet the hero's standards. She's bouncy and witty and completely frank about her weakness for handsome men in the sex department -- it's a combination that makes for pure delight.


It's not a perfect story by any means, but it was a hell of a lot of fun.


When is a bootlegger like Batman?

Bitter Spirits (Roaring Twenties) - Jenn Bennett

"I knew going in that a bootlegging hero was probably going to have to kill someone. Not every rumrunner forbade guns like Seattle’s Roy Olmstead, though I suspect that’s partly who Bitter Spirits hero Winter Magnusson was based on. And there’s definitely room in romantic heroism for killing: Han shot first, after all. So I wasn’t surprised when the book revealed that Winter has a few deaths on his conscience.


"I was a little surprised that one of them was his wife, though."

A sweet little heart-wrencher of a Regency romance.

Sweet Disorder - Rose Lerner

{Disclosure: Rose and I are friends in non-internet life and often meet for happy hour in a spot with a lake view.}



This is one of those books where every character gives you the feelings. Mostly you want to hug people -- hard-pressed heroine Phoebe Sparks, for instance, or war-wounded and election-weary hero Nicholas Dymond. Some people you want to punch quite hard in the face -- like Nicholas' brother Tom, the Orange-and-Purple candidate and the apple of his high-pressure mother's eye. Other people transform from possible villains to unexpected heroes as the book goes on, which is one of the most delightful things a secondary character can do.


The world of Lively St. Lemeston is vivid and grounded and dazzlingly real, but also charming and inviting and sweet. Phoebe's worry about her sister and her future fights with her desire for Nick and oh, it's so lovely to find a historical heroine who's unabashedly in touch with her sexual self, even if she doesn't always let that side out to play like she wants to. As for our hero, Nick has to rediscover himself in the wake of his war experience -- not only in terms of his disability, but in terms of how his experience reframes his feelings for his family, and what he wants to do with his own life. Small moments build and build into layered feelings, and then the author just pulls characters together and twists just so...


Recommended if you want to get sucked into a romance, and if you're looking for historical romance not swamped by dukes and earls and debutantes.

Vividly written, expertly researched.

The Age of Radiance: The Epic Rise and Dramatic Fall of the Atomic Era - Craig Nelson

I've been reading a lot of atomic-age history books lately. A LOT. So I was prepared to go over material I'd seen before. And the 'rise and fall' narrative of radiation's discovery and military application is not uncommon, either.


But the voice of this book! The moments the author lets himself synthesize information and offer actual thoughts on what he's describing -- stating that Lise Meitner was treated shabbily by history, discussing how Marie Curie's love life after Pierre's death has been erased as a blot against her scientific legacy, his way of detailing the many moral failures of Edward Teller without actually writing down "Edward Teller was an asshole on a major scale" the way I'm always tempted to... The author's voice is controlled, compelling, sophisticated, passionate, and humane. I went more slowly through it than I could have, just because every other paragraph sparked some idea in my writer-brain. That kind of book is worth its weight in gold. A+, ecstatically recommended, would read again.

Darkly satisfying.

Three Parts Dead - Max Gladstone

Combining fantasy with mystery is always a gamble: mysteries rely on an reader's ability to play along with the detective and decode the clues, while fantasy thrives on the creation of strange new worlds and expansive magics that don't necessarily follow conventional physical rules. An author has to set up a system complex enough to sustain a puzzling mystery, but plausible and interesting enough so the reader plays along with the rules she knows are invented.


Max Gladstone's solution here is ingenious: he makes magic out of contracts and bureaucracy, turning souls into currency and building a financial-legal puzzle around the murder of a god. I loved magician-hero Tara Abernathy's wariness and those moments when she took real and slightly scary delight in the sheer power of her Craft -- and I loved chain-smoking priest Abelard, who's out of his depth and lost without his god's guiding light but does his best to find his way in the darkness. Very nearly a perfect book, and well worth the time.

Politics, hope, and charm.

The Goblin Emperor - Katherine Addison

If I told you that this book is one long meditation on the use and abuse of power, it would sound dry and self-important. But this book is neither of those things. Yes, the imperial court of the elves is a bureaucratic mess of politics and paperwork -- but there are also long-standing grudges, secret agendas, simmering resentments, and open rebellions. In the middle of all this comes Maia, half-goblin, outcast and forgotten and unprepared to become emperor. He's smart enough to know he's out of his depth -- and lonely enough to try to trust people even when he probably shouldn't. Oh, my heart broke for him several times. 


This book was a marvelous antidote for every grimdark gorefest fantasy you've avoided reading lately. Sweetness and sadness are perfectly mingled, and it's an absolute pleasure to watch as Maia slowly learns to find his place in this glittering new world. Cannot recommend this strongly enough.

The best billionaire romance you'll ever read.

Trade Me - Courtney Milan

This book inspires me with a near-fanatical devotion. The prose is lovely, the characters rich and compelling -- and not just the protagonists, but the secondary characters as well. There's an air of fear and secrets and desperation to survive that is almost Gothic in intensity, even as our hero and heroine are making the smartest, realest choices they can at every moment. People screw up, and people are redeemed. Or not redeemed. Or they redeem themselves. Weeks later I still cannot stop thinking about it. And wanting to reread it. And wishing for the second book.


This book made me feel like the greediest reader ever.


Disclaimer: I received a copy of this book from the author, because I am a lucky so-and-so.

" By giving back all the money she’s taken from him, Teddy is withdrawing her implied participation not only with the coming robbery, but with everything Louis did to earn that first wad of bills too. She’s making her distrust of him foremost in the relationship again. She’s choosing her self-worth over his expedience. And she’s doing it without being at all idealistic or naive: she knows damn well what that money could mean for her, but she knows she would betray herself by accepting it. She’s principled in a realistic, grounded way."
Filthy Lucre - Sharon Cullars

My long, long analysis of money and morality in Sharon Cullars' Filthy Lucre.

Restrained and terrifying.

Command and Control: Nuclear Weapons, the Damascus Accident, and the Illusion ofSafety - Eric Schlosser

A long, thorough, but absorbing read, full of near-misses and the weird bureaucratic combination of terror and boredom in the same system (nuclear weapons creation and management).


Most telling detail: it wasn't until I read this that I learned the SAC's "Peace is Our Profession" motto was not a dark joke that Terry Pratchett and Neil Gaiman wrote for Good Omens. It was the actual real-life SAC motto. I got chills when I realized, and now I feel far less safe in the world. Smarter, but less safe.