Opal Charm: Melody of Astronomical Dusk by Miri Castor

Snapchat of the cover of Opal Charm: Melody of Astronomical Dusk. Opal and her brother Jermaine are being attacked by pillars of blue ice shards. Opal, is controlling two glowing golden fists to punch the ice while Jermaine is wielding a rope of golden water.

Above the scene in soft blue outline is the figure of Samael, the novel's primary antagonist, arms raised like he's controlling the scene. 

A grey bar across the cover indicates the book is "Not for Resale" owing to the fact that it is an advanced reader copy.

The snapchat caption reads: Can we just talk about this cover art? Like... this series has always had top of the line cover art, but this is next level and I'm in love.

Not spoiler free.

This is my new favorite installment in the Opal Charm saga. Everything from cover to the final page left me absolutely thrilled. 

We pick up where we left off at the end of “Hope in Nautical Dusk.” Anza is gone—though she lives on in a way inside of Opal—and Opal is still working as a spy in Samael’s palace as Upala Valora. Our large cast of queer side characters returns, with my personal favorite, trans man Hinata, getting quite a bit of attention—we learn about his motivation and reasons for working for Samael and he gets a bit more sympathetic as far as a guy on the bad side of things goes. 

Now before we get into the plot I would just like to recommend that if it’s been a while since you read “Hope in Nautical Dusk” you should revisit it, because “Melody of Astronomical Dusk” drops you right back into the middle of the action, and oh boy the action.

Excerpt from the novel: "She found Iman standing in front of the band with a bejeweled blade pressed against her cheek. The man with the lump on his back had her pressed to his one side and Ngoc on the other, the smiling boy far too carefree despite being held hostage. His smile remained unchanged as the blade sliced across Iman's cheek."

The Snapchat caption: "Oh boy, page 5 and things are already popping off."

At the top of the page, the page number is circled in blue.

Opal’s relationships have always been in important throughout the series, but they carry particular weight in this book as they become more complicated. We see Opal struggling with her interactions with her co-workers as Valora, because while these people are working for the man who has tried to kill her and her family, working alongside them means that she is exposed to them as people with all the associated complexities as opposed to simply monsters complicit in a cruel and oppressive regime. 

We also see Opal’s personal life become more and more entangled in her work on Athre with JAEL. A mild reveal is that Opal’s grandmother inherited the family’s power of Twilight, which she uses to cultivate a luscious garden. A less mild reveal is that Opal and Jermaine’s cousin Gabriel, who has been mentioned throughout the books as having gone missing, is embroiled in Samael’s schemes. That reveal was absolutely stunning and had me gasping. I won’t spoil more there, as it’s far to delicious a reveal to spoil in its entirety. 

Novel quote: "Pebbles rained from beneath the chunk of the ground Mira stood on. She leaned up and plucked the ripe mangos from the branches, dropping them into her basket. When the tree was free of ripe mangos, she brought her golden platform to the ground, gently shaking the earth again. 'We have a lot to talk about, don't we?'"

Snapchat captain: "GRANDMA'S GOT MAGIC POWERS"

Crucially to Opal’s development with her powers of Twlight, she learns more and finally figures out how to connect with Philomenos, her great-great-grandfather and the source of their powers, after she, Jermaine and Addy travel to Philomenos’ home country of Thesan to determine if the leaders of Thesan have sided with Samael and get a much more complicated and detailed answer than they bargained for (in a good way though). It’s an important step for Opal, who has been struggling for a while with how the revelation of Twilight and her family’s legacy has impacted her sense of identity. 

“Melody of Astronomical Dusk” was released on April 2nd and can be purchased in ebook and paperback format through Amazon. 

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The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard

The cover of "The Whale: A Love Story by Mark Beauregard"

The back ground is blue, "The" and "A Love Story" are written in pink all caps font, while "Whale" is in white and written larger. 
Below that is a large white whale over a small house done in pink, at the bottom is the author's name, Mark Beauregard.

Snapchat caption reads: "Gay historical fiction my love" with a heart eyes emoji at the end of the line

For those lovers of “Moby Dick” and Herman Melville, “The Whale: A Love Story” is a delightful and compelling work of historical fiction that peers into the life of Melville during the period in which he was writing “Moby Dick,” struggling with debts, and had a close relationship with fellow author Nathaniel Hawthorne. However, prior knowledge of “Moby Dick” and Melville isn’t really required to read the book. I knew very little about Melville and Hawthorne as authors going into this and I have not read “Moby Dick,” and my knowledge of it primarily comes from cultural osmosis. As such, I would recommend this book to anyone interested in queer history, historical romances, and maritime or literary history. 

Melville as a character, is wholly relatable and horribly embarrassing in equal measures. If we were to rate him on the scale of distinguished/functional/disaster gay, he would be solidly disaster. You want both to cheer him on in his work and pursuit of Hawthorne’s friendship and smack him over the head and beg him to please use some common sense.

Quote: "...but now that he had almost completed the book, he saw that it was badly conceived and poorly written."

Snapchat caption (or snaption): "God, what a mood"
Quote: "Hawthorne said he would be honored to sleep wherever Herman would suffer him to lay his head, a comment Herman found excruciating." 

Snapchat caption: "Herman Melville is a disaster gay of the highest order"

It is a marked difference from Hawthorne’s own personality, which is reserved and measured even in his exuberance. Hawthorne is also very much influenced by a Puritanical upbringing and struggles to place his feelings for Melville alongside his feelings for his wife. 

Quote: "Herman realized with heart-stopping joy that he needed by turn his head slightly to kiss Hawthorne."

Snapchat caption: No no no, that is a very bad idea Herman

This is the only book I think I’ve ever read where I was begging the main couple not to kiss, because I could tell that it would spell disaster. That’s not to say that the book doesn’t give us a thorough and beautiful portrayal of Hawthorne and Melville’s relationship though, it’s just a very 19th century gay relationship and all the caution and trepidation that could entail. All of the tender longing and yearning is there from both parties (though we get rather more from Melville, since it is his point of view), and we are given a delightful ending that had me pressing my face into my book to muffle my quiet screaming. 

Quote: "Can't you just say plainly how you feel?" / He [Hawthorne] turned around to face Herman again. "I know that you are unlike anyone I have ever met. When I am around you, I feel at liberty to express myself completely as I see fit, because I am quite sure you will understand me. It's a freedom I have longed for, but I also know that what you want from me, I cannot give." 

Snapchat caption: "Oof, that hits me right in the gay"

The epilogue (which should most definitely be read) gives us a look into the research done by the author, and it was fascinating how he worked to incorporate the letter correspondence between Melville and Hawthorne that was interspersed throughout the chapters. Most of the letters from Melville to Hawthorne (with a handful of exceptions) are real letters. However, none of Hawthorne’s are, because we don’t have any of his letters from this period. What the author did instead, was use the letters of Hawthorne’s we do have to create the fictional replies we see from Hawthorne in the book, which I think is a terribly clever way to get around the missing letter problem.

A genuinely lovely and tender piece of fiction, I would highly recommend it to anyone interested. The book can be found in a variety of locations online, including new and used through Bookshop.org. 

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The Convert by Stefan Hermans, translated by David McKay

The cover of "The Convert" by Stefan Hertmans. It is noted as a novel and by the author of the book "War and Turpentine." The cover image is a close up of a young woman's face from a medieval painting. The paint has started to crack.

The snapchat caption reads

I bought this on a whim because it sounded like the sort of historical fiction I would enjoy; historical fiction based in historical fact. I was completely correct. “The Convert” is a fictional representation of what the life of Vigdis Adelaïs, a well-born 11th century Norman girl who leaves her home and family to run away with the Jewish boy (David Todros) she fell in love with, might have been like.

A picture of one of the primary documents on Vigdis', a letter of recommendation from a rabbi to help her travel. 

The snapchat caption reads "Primary! Documents!"

While the genre of historical fiction relies heavily on speculation in general, I draw attention to it here in particular because the narrative does. The novel blends Vigdis/Hamoutal’s journey as she flees her home, converts to a new religion, and, later, searches for her children, with the journey the author/narrator takes to retrace the possible path that she took in the 21st century. We never forget for a moment that this is a real person and that there are significant gaps in her narrative, which is constructed on two document fragments that are located in the Cairo Genizah Collection at the University of Cambridge. 

Quote from page 63 "Standing on the sandy riverbank, I'm assailed by fresh doubts about their escape route. Why wouldn't they have been smuggled out of the city in a nondescript boat by a helpful Jewish fisherman who lived nearby? They could have followed the looping course of the Seine southward. No, then they might have been discovered and betrayed at any time. I imagine their pursuers conducting a systematic sweep of the river."

The snapchat caption reads: "I love how the author uses the gaps in the historical record to build the narrative!"

Now, with the whole story, past and present, being told by our author/narrator and weaving between past, present and historical background, there is a bit of jumping around in time throughout the whole book. If you aren’t used to reading novels that play with narrative structure there may be a few moments of confusion at first, but those don’t last long and, for me, they came mostly from the fact that you are dropped directly into the middle of the story, before you are taken back to the beginning of the story in chapter two.

A quote from the book, "In the Norman port of Rouen on a bright autumn day in the year 1070, a girl is born." 

The snapchat caption reads: "Oh excellent it's backstory time. I love the time jumps here. There's always a risk of that being confusing, but it's not at all"

Otherwise, the past and present narratives are told more or less concurrently.

Quote: I'd searched for freighters, but they never seemed to follow Hamoutal's route either. Imagining I would re-enact her voyage as accurately as possible, I'd overlooked how completed the world has changed."

Snapchat caption: "The overlay of modern path and historical path has been incredibly evocative."

It should be noted that this story is, ultimately, a tragedy, though our heroine has her moments of happiness throughout. The backdrop for this story is the First Crusade, which was not a time that was kind to the Jewish people, and Hamoutal’s woes are compounded by being a fugitive as her parents have people searching for her. Particular warnings in these veins include: graphic depictions of antisemitic violence, including pogroms; multiple instances of explicit sexual assault; and child death. I do feel like the sexual assault was a bit excessive as there were three instances of assault for Hamoutal alone, not counting all the background mentions. Two of those three instances, in my opinion, could have been left as instances of physical violence (which they already were without the assault). 

Although Hamoutal’s story is ultimately a tragic one, the story as whole does not end tragically with her death. It ends instead with her resurrection through the continued study of the two fragments that give us glimpses into her life as well as through how our author/narrator has resurrected her path through the world with his own journey and the legacy she and her little family left on the world. A bittersweet ending perhaps, but that is what I love about history, historical fiction and research: the ability to give new life to a person who has been hidden in the historical record.

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The Sawbones Book: The Horrifying, Hilarious Road to Modern Medicine (expanded edition) by Justin and Dr. Syndee McElroy

A picture of the front cover "The Sawbones Book" expanded edition

The snapchat caption reads: Bones!!!!

“The Sawbones Book” has been revised and expanded for 2020 and we all know what that means. No, not a lot of COVID-19 talk, but an expanded infectious disease section that includes historical pandemics, epidemics and global panics feat. some notes about how we’re totally handling this pandemic so much better than we did in the past, (spoiler alert, we’re uh, kinda not).

An excerpt from the book, the main text reads "This led, of course, to panic and a complete lack of coordination on a global level. Some thought it wasn't working because cholera was not communicable and that quarantine was ridiculous. Others just thought we weren't quarantining quickly or strictly enough. No one knew where cholera was coming from yet, so blaming whatever race of humans you didn't like was also very trendy."

An interjection blurb from Justin follows, "Isn't this all so weird and different from today? I'm looking at all this stuff about panic and confusion and blaming different cultures than your own, and it's just so foreign to how we're reacting to coronavirus in good old, super-smart 2020."

The snapchat caption reads "So strange."

The New:

An interjection blurb from Justin reads, "Oh, hachi machi does this next part ever get grody. I wish I hadn't read it, and I helped write it. Ugh. Also, if you notice any really obvious typos, it's because I was only half peeking from between my fingers while I was blasting some really soothing Sarah McLachlan."

The book is largely the same “Sawbones Book” as the previous hardback edition, but with additions, some rearranging, and the corrections of a bunch of typos. (Honestly, there were so many typos in the hardback that I’d assumed they were part of Justin’s “sorry if there were typos, I was trying to avoid looking at what I’m writing cause it’s gross” goof, apparently not.) 

The opening limerick to the section "The Contagious," it reads: "Come read of the times / When germs ran amuck / And ships quarantined in the bay. / Then strap on your mask, / The parade's almost here, / For the past is our present today."

The snapchat caption reads: "I only want to be presented with covid news in limmerick form from now on."

The biggest change is the addition of a “The Contagious” section that replaces “The Unnerving” as the first section of the book, which was bumped back to be section two, and has my absolute favorite opening bit. This new section includes new chapters, such as “Quarantine” and “The Deadly Parade,” and old chapters moved from other sections like “The Black Plague” and “Parrot Fever.”

The Old:

“The Sawbones Book” is a wildly entertaining look at a huge swath medical history. For fans of the podcast, it recaps some of the greatest hits and is written very much the way Justin and Sydnee speak. If you’ve got a brain like mine, you can basically hear them reading the book (and they did actually do the audio book too.) For newcomers, it’s an easy to read look at medical history with a humorous twist that is just missing from your average history book.

My absolute favorite story in the book is the story of Henry Bessemer’s (of Bessemer steel fame) seasick-proof saloon, a free swinging room within a ship designed to prevent seasickness. It went just about as well as you might expect. 

An excerpt from the main text, "Remember how the saloon was swiveling independently of the ship itself? Well, it didn't get the memo that it should cut it out when the ship tried to stop moving. The swinging of the cabin as the ship slowed down made it incredibly difficult to pilot the ship. An lo, did the SS Bessemer end its maiden voyage by crashing in to the pier."

The snapchat caption reads: "Ah yes, physics."

Most importantly, I think, is that this new edition of “The Sawbones Book”  has retained the same ending line, which I love so so much. It is the latter part of Justin’s response to a question from a “The Doctor is In” section, where Sydnee answers general medical questions, and it is simply, “This is, literally, the worst day of my life.” And I feel like that’s just the perfect way to close out having just spent 200 pages learning about hilarious, terribad ‘cures.’

The Verdict:

Go buy this book right now. It’s so much fun and it’s highly accessible to people without a scientific background. There are even handy dandy notes throughout to help you avoid the extra gross stuff, and although some of the page numbers weren’t updated to reflect the new edition, it hardly impacts the reading experience. 

Even if you already bought the previous hardback edition, treat yourself and get yourself the new edition too. It’s definitely worth it.

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Dracula in Istanbul by Bram Stoker & Ali Riza Seyfioğlu

Picture of the book "Dracula in Istanbul: The Unauthorized Version of the Gothic Classic" held up by a hand. The cover is in sepia tones with a pale brown background with  a sketchy black skyline. In the foreground there are stairs leading up to an open door where a shadowy figure stands. The title font is read and the font 
word "Dracula" imitates blood smears.

The snapchat caption reads "Bootleg Turkish Dracula"

There is so much to love about “Dracula” and there is just as much to love about “Dracula in Istanbul.” At once familiar and wholly new “Dracula in Istanbul” is a Turkish “translation,” of “Dracula” and an incredible example of transformative fiction and how translation plays a part in that. 

Picture of text from the book's forward. It reads "There is no clear information as to why Ali Riza Seyfi claimed to be the author of the book and why he did not introduce it as a translation."

The snapchat caption reads, "Iconic."

The first big difference can be noticed immediately just by looking at the book, it’s a good deal shorter than the original. My copy of “Dracula,” a 1965 Signet Classic, comes in at 382 pages while “Dracula in Istanbul” comes in at a neat 139 pages. This is primarily because one of the major omissions that Ali Riza Sefioğlu makes is the removal of the entirety of the Renfield plot line. Other omissions are made as well, but this one is by far the biggest and most noticeable. 

The forward and introduction give a good break down of some of the larger changes, including the setting, character names and characterization, and thematic plots. The whole narrative is moved from Victorian England to Turkey immediately following the Turkish War of Independence. This necessitates some changes by default, Jonathan and Mina become Azmi and Güzin and London becomes Istanbul. 

The distinction between Christian and Muslim reactions to vampires is also made apparent, and in fact comes up as a relevant point on more than one occasion, such as when Azmi sees the Transylvanian townsfolk’s reaction to Dracula and when Resuhî (Van Helsing) is explaining to everyone about vampires and how they are dealt with and called in various cultures. 

As I noted before, this was published not long after the Turkish War of Independence and as such there is a strong emphasis on nationalism and Turkish pride in the book. Şadan’s (Lucy) suitors are all Turkish and their proud service for their country during the war comes up time and time again. This applies even to our Quincey equivalent, Özdemir. The dashing American, becomes descended of the Efe group who, while from a different part of Turkey, were still noted as proud Turkish individuals. There is more discussion of this this in the forward and introduction, as well as in helpful footnotes throughout.

Now we come to my favorite change. Count Dracula is explicitly identified as Vlad the Impaler. There is passing reference to this posibility in “Dracula,” but “Dracula in Istanbul” takes that thread and runs with it. The references to this that run throughout the book culminate in a grand speech on the history of Vlad the Impaler given by Resuhî right before the final showdown with Dracula. 

Picture of text from "Dracula in Istanbul," it reads: 
"If you were here now, and saw that this large woman and her husband cross themselves in fear, you would immediately think of the terrible Voivode Dracula from history. That unmatched barbarian, famed as the Impaler Voivode, who impaled thousands of Turkish captives along Danube River! That ugly and vile historical face!"

The snapchat caption reads, "I am loving the increased reference to Vlad the Impaler."

The only change that really made me a bit sad was that Dr. Afif (Dr. Seward) did not record his diary the way he did in the original, although of all the changes I’m not quite sure why I found myself missing that one so much. I’d never paid it that much thought before. 

If you are interested in vampiric lore and Dracula, I would highly recommend checking this version out. It’s an excellent read and, as someone who has mostly consumed Western versions of vampire lore, I found the cultural changes very interesting to see. 

Picture of text from the book's afterward, it reads: "...for Draculla did not merely travel to Iceland and Istanbul but infected the entire world."

The snapchat caption reads, "What a baller line to end the book with."

You can get yourself a copy of “Dracula in Istanbul” right here. 

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The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth

The cover of The Resurrectionist by E.B. Hudspeth. It has a black background and a grayscale drawing of an anatomical drawing of a winged human.

If you like fictional science, Victorian fantasy, great art and a creeping sense of horror, then “The Resurrectionist” by E.B. Hudspeth is the book for you. 

The book comes in two parts. The first is the fictional biography of Dr. Spencer Black that takes your through Black’s early education and career as a surgeon, the development of his strange evolutionary theories, and the experiments he makes later. 

So what is all this fake science? Through his early surgical work, Dr. Black comes to believe that birth defects and other abnormalities are caused by the human body trying to grow limbs that humans once had but no longer have, like wings, or a mermaid’s tail… and ergo mythical creatures were once real and also we should try to bring them back.

Snapchat of text, the highlighted quote reads, "Among the paper's most controversial claims was the idea that many so-called mythological creatures were in fact real species that once walked the earth. Black further argued that remnants of these creatures sometimes manifested themselves in latent trails, that is, genetic mutations."

The caption reads "You'd be surprised how realistic this is in terms of shit people got up to in the 1800s. There was real historical discourse about whether or not the mermaid was a missing evolutionary link."

So armed with the obstinate belief of many a Victorian scientist with bad theories, he sets about trying to prove this in the worst possible way. First he cobbles together fakes a la the Feejee mermaid, but then he decides to take it a step further and experiment on living creatures. He starts with animals… but doesn’t stop there.

Snapchat of text, the quote reads "Unhappy with the success of the anatomy show and grieving the loss of his son, Victor,

The thing I really enjoyed about this first part being presented as a biography are the questions and mysteries that arise, but due to the restraints of the genre and structure of the story, cannot be solved. He transplants wings onto a dog and then a young woman, and we are lead to believe that these wings work, but logically we also know that shouldn’t be possible, so then we wonder, maybe Dr. Black was onto something

Additionally, when dealing with late Victorian evolutionary theory, especially when discussing disability and birth defects, you always, always run the risk of running into eugenics. To my pleasant surprise, Dr. Black is never affiliated with the eugenics movement, in fact, they denounce him and his work.

This is rather a double edge sword of an endorsement, however. Like, yay, he’s not involved with the eugenics movement, but the denouncement also serves as a moment of “the people doing really fucked up shit think the shit you’re doing is worse” and let’s not forget Dr. Black was experimenting on living human beings by the end. 

Which brings me to my next point and major warning; there is a not insignificant amount of medical ableism in this book. Much of it is typical for the time period and field in which Dr. Black worked, but it’s still there and there were a small handful of things that I thought could have been done better from the perspective of the modern biographer of Dr. Black, but they weren’t enough to ruin the book for me. 

Two anatomical drawings a mermaid with each individual part labeled. The first is a skeleton and the skeleton with some minor musculature. Beneath the image is the label "Siren oceanus."

Part two of the book is a “reproduction” of Dr. Black’s seminal work, “The Codex of Extinct Animalia,” where he details his “discoveries” of various mythical creatures, from mermaids to dragons to centaurs. Each section includes beautifully detailed anatomical drawings of each creature, just like what might have been found in a regular anatomical text book of the time, accompanied by blurbs written by Dr. Black and a short explanation by the biographer. 

Ultimately, if you enjoy dark historical fantasy, science fiction and horror, such as Frankenstein, The Terror (tv show), or Dracula you might enjoy The Resurrectionist too. 

You can watch the trailer for the book as well as find links to purchase here.

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Black on Both Sides: A Racial History of Trans Identity by C. Riley Snorton

The first thing I learned reading this was that I’m very out of practice when it comes to reading academic theory. The second was that I need to broaden the academic theory I read. Thankfully, “Black on Both Sides” has a deliciously robust bibliography which I have marked up for future reading. 

Now I will say, this may be a somewhat challenging read for those who don’t have a background in academic theory, but I think it’s doable if you’re willing to stop and google things, which I still had to do myself despite my academic background. Regardless, I would highly recommend this book to anyone with an interest in gender studies, even if you haven’t delved into much theory yet. C. Riley Snorton has done an incredible job of pulling together a wide range of theories to curate his discussion of race and gender, and moreover, he explains those theories well.

Quotation:  Heeding her call, my analysis here is particularly attentive to the possibilities of valorizing--without necessarily redeeming--different ways of knowing and being, as it is also invested in reviving and inventing strategies for inhabiting unlivable worlds. It is an attempt to think more precisely about the connections within blackness and transness in the midst of ongoing black and trans death and against the backdrop  of the rapid institutionalization of trans studies.

Snapchat caption: Nothing grabs my attention faster than reference to "different ways of knowing."

As you may have already guessed, “Black on Both Sides” is not your run of the mill history book. It is a history, certainly, but one that goes one step deeper than just telling history. It asks questions about and provides an analysis of the history of Black gendered experience and how that has developed from slavery through to today. 

The first chapter begins with a discussion of the Black female body as an object in the historical context of the origins of the medical field of gynecology. Major warning in this chapter for discussions of unethical experimentation and medical abuse. 

"Relaying another variation of the experimental trials, Sims tells his readers that he 'was fortunate in having three young healthy colored girls given to me by their owners,' while also noting that he performed 'no operation without the full consent of the patients."

Snapchat caption: Spot the contradiction.

The second chapter follows this, with a discussion of how “ungendering blackness” provided ways for fugitive slaves to use crossing gender boundaries in their movement toward freedom. This chapter uses two early slave narratives as examples of this and continues with a discussion of literature into chapter three, where Snorton moves on to discuss the female presence in post Reconstruction narratives of Black individuals.

Chapter four delves into the lives of several Black trans individuals and how the media portrayed their gender and transitions in the years surrounding Christine Jorgensen’s rise to fame. Snorton hits, quite early on, one of the major problems I have with the Jorgensen narrative, namely that it plays heavily into the tropes of the “good trans” who upholds white heterosexuality. 

Lastly, chapter five discusses the the Humboldt killings and the Brenden Teena archive, the tragedy behind the documentary “The Brenden Teena Story” and the feature film “Boys Don’t Cry.” 

I was particularly excited for these final two chapters, 1) because they brushed up with things that I’ve studied more in depth, and 2) because they offered different perspectives to the dominant narratives surrounding both Christine Jorgensen and the Brandon Teena archive. For the latter in particular I have gotten rather sick of cis feminists touting “Boys Don’t Cry” as The Best Trans Expression In Film as if it isn’t about the rape and murder of a trans man. Snorton’s look into the Humboldt killings prioritizes Philip DeVine, the Black disabled man who was murdered alongside Teena and Lisa Lambert, and who notably was removed wholesale from the narrative of “Boys Don’t Cry.”

I could go on and on about everything I loved about this book. It’s a very careful and detailed breakdown of queer theory as it pertains to Black and trans history. But as I do have to end this review, I will direct you to where you can get this book so you can experience it for yourselves.

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Chasing a Legacy by D.A. Ravenscroft

The cover of "Chasing a Legacy" by D.A. Ravenscroft. A young blond woman in a green 19th century dress stands against a railing, she is holding a locket in her hands.

The snapchat caption reads: More incredibly sexy queer historical fiction.

“Chasing a Legacy” comes as a sequel to “Chasing a Ghost,” which is itself an unofficial sequel to Victor Hugo’s Les Miserables that reimagines the character Enjolras as a gay transgender man. “Chasing a Legacy,” unlike its predecessor, is much less unofficial sequel and much more original fiction. The few characters from Les Miserables remain, Grantaire, Combeferre, Courfeyrac, Marius, but the vast majority of the cast are new, original characters, in large part the children of the aforementioned  Les Mis characters who were first introduced as children in “Chasing a Ghost.” 

The central two characters are Marianne and Camille, the two remaining children of Enjolras and Grantaire. Both queer in some respect, Marianne has made a name for herself as a bohemian and courtesan and Camille followed in his father’s footsteps to become a lawyer. Marianne has tried desperately to be nothing like Enjolras, who she feels abandoned her, and Camille has done his utmost to emulate him while simultaneously blaming himself for his father’s death. The plot takes them through a complicated mess of political and social maneuvering and drama against a backdrop of complex familial trauma and present day trauma.

Quote from "Chasing a Legacy": Chapter 1, title, The price of a single shot may be a coat or a man

Paris, Francis, 1966

First line of the first chapter: "Slow your breathing. Do not show fear. Be like Father."

The complexity and messiness of the relationships in the book is indescribably good. They feel realistic and raw and they are so well constructed as they change and evolve that you truly feel the catharsis at the end.

"Chasing a Legacy" quote: "You don't need to be him, Marianne;  that's something I wish your brother would understand," Grantaire said. "You don't have to  make the  same mistakes he did. But do not deny parts of yourself because you resent him. Please." That same tender hand that had touched her face found her shoulder, clasping it firmly. "Take what he gave you - and do better."

Snapchat caption: The way this book  handles  complicated parental relationships is exquisite.

This feeling of catharsis at the end is added to by the fact that there a lot of very heavy subject matter in “Chasing a Legacy” that is handled very well. Sexual assault is a big player in the criminal side of the plot and PTSD is another large theme, but the trauma is handled tactfully and respectfully, and any ableist, misogynistic, or victim blaming language is both incredibly limited in usage and the narrative punishes those who use it very effectively. By the end, the relief and catharsis of justice done is palpable, though it’s hardly an easy road.

"Chasing a Legacy" quote: "If a fox gets caught in a trap it is not a failure on the fox's part," Elodie said. "It is the doing of whoever set down the snare. My brother is charming and clever, Nothing of this is your fault." 

Snapchat caption: Ugh this is such a good metaphor.

I will note, that while none of the traumatic events are explicitly shown, they are discussed in quite a condensed and rather intense way in a trial toward the end. If you have trouble with this sort of thing, I would recommend perhaps skipping over Marianne’s trial, (Camille’s, which takes place first, is a laugh riot), or reading slowly and in increments. There is a full list of potential triggers in the back of the book. 

It has been a long time since I have been so utterly hooked by a plot. “Chasing a Legacy” is over 700 pages and I found it nearly impossible to put down. I read the book in its entirety in two solid three-hour stints. I’m not sure I’ve ever seen such a complicated and extensive plot unravel so perfectly. I hardly know what I can say about it for fear of ruining the mystery! I’ll leave it at this, D. A. Ravenscroft has done what many a creative writing major, myself included, dreams of, writing the perfect multi-protagonist novel without the story being overwhelmed by one character or another. It is beautifully balanced and the plot has been interwoven exquisitely.

 Some other things that were done phenomenally well: 

1. I know I mentioned PTSD before, but I really cannot stress how well this was managed. We saw different manifestations of PTSD, sympathetic responses from medical professionals, period appropriate treatments that were good and effective.

2. Camille is autistic! Now the language surrounding this obviously not modern day language, but the indicators are there if you know what to look for. Camille is overwhelmed (overstimulated) by the ringing of the bells of Notre Dame. Has a particular coat (a plot important coat) that is just the perfect texture and feeling that it’s irreplaceable. 

Quote from "Chasing a Legacy": "He would mourn this coat - it had been his favourite, handsome and well-fitted with an inoffensive texture..."

The snapchat caption reads: My autistic son!

3. We get a major endgame mlm and wlw relationship with Fabien and Camille and Marianne and Elodie. You don’t have choose if you want to read a book about one or the other cause this book gives you both.

4. Fabien, love of my life, Camille’s love interest, is a trans man and Jewish, and his Jewishness isn’t a one off passing mention either. Although Fabien is a secondary character, he is an important one and we are afforded a look into his family life, his community and by the end…… stop reading if you don’t want a spoiler…… 

Camille converts to Judaism over the course of their relationship. We don’t see this, but it is explicitly stated in the epilogue. I just about screamed. 

This beautiful beautiful book with it’s beautiful beautiful cover art, can be found here, in several different editions: A two volume paperback, a two volume hardback, a single volume, brick-sized paperback, and an ebook.

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I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman by June Williams

Cover of "I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman" by June Williams

Do you ever see a book with a conceit so wonderfully wild that you know you just have to read it? I’ve seen Chuck Tingle’s books floating around with their wild and wacky titles, but I’ve never been struck with the impulse to actually read one. With Ms. Williams’ work, however, I knew I had to read it immediately and I was well rewarded for my impulse.

The story is pretty much exactly what it says on the tin. It promises you marriage to a 2,000 year old lesbian bogwoman and boy does it deliver. Now this is erotica, plain and simple, if you’re looking for a plot look elsewhere. We meet our protagonist (Tamiko) and the mummy (Boggie) on page one and by page two thing are getting spicy. (Note: exact pagination may differ depending on the settings of your e-reader.)

Set in the world of an academic researcher, the story follows a fairly standard formula when it comes to delivering the plot, (relationship troubles and a little magic leads to… etc.), which I find helpful because it doesn’t belabor the intent of the story, ie. gratuitous and hilarious smut. It also allows for the reader to simply be whisked away with suspension of disbelief and laugh their own ass off when the mummy’s first words are complementing the Tamiko’s ass.

I hurried to the back of the trailer for a special gauze pad to clean Boggie. My wound could wait. As I rummaged through the supplies a croaky voice rasped, "You have a fine ass."

Hilarity ensues throughout as Tamiko and Boggie adjust to Boggie’s suddenly being alive in the 21st century. There were so many times I had to pause reading because I was laughing too hard to continue. I found the physical descriptions of Boggie to be particularly evocative, as we see her being compared to a “favorite leather jacket broken in just right” and “single malt Islay Scotch.” The last one really bowled me over, because that is a taste my friends, not smell, and I’ll let you read to find out just what is being tasted. This may be erotica, but I like to keep my reviews fairly clean.

Her tongue was cool and supple. A favorite leather jacket broken in just right.

Now not all erotica is for everyone, so I’ll give a few content warnings before I wrap things up.

1. Dom/Sub relationship, with some mild BDSM.

2. Grad Student/Professor relationship, comes in at the end.

3. Not erotica related, but there is brief discussion of Donald Trump and some of the political events of the past four years. 

All in all, I would rate this book 10/10 and recommended to anyone who’s interested in this kind of comedic erotica. If you’re a fan of Chuck Tingle’s works, you’ll almost certainly enjoy this. 

“I Married a 2,000 Year Old Lesbian Bogwoman” is one of, I believe, three short ebooks written by June Williams and can be found on Amazon here.

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Master and Commander by Patrick O’Brian

Cover of "Master and Commander" by Patrick O'Brian

If you’re interested in the history of British Royal Navy or just like a lot of nitty gritty historical detail in anything you read, you’ll definitely enjoy “Master and Commander” and probably the rest of the series as well. The series, known collectively as the Aubreyad (I’m assuming a play on the Illiad), was recommended to me as a fan of AMC’s “The Terror” and the history surrounding that. 

In terms of technical detail, I would also compare it to “The Martian,” which provides a lot of scientific detail and jargon without feeling overwhelming. And certainly, when we are first introduced to much of the Naval language it is through the eyes of Dr. Stephen Maturin, a physician who is becoming accustomed to a ship for the first time after being requested by Jack Aubrey to act as his ship’s surgeon. Patrick O’Brian also helpfully includes a diagram in the very beginning of the book that shows a ship’s sails. 

In terms of pacing the story can feel a bit slow on a plot level, often because much of the action was mixed in among the technical detail and there were several points where I assumed we’d get a scene only to find that the scene had been glossed over and only referred in retrospective later. I wouldn’t hold that against the book, however, it’s just a style of writing I’m not used to. 

It should also be remembered that “Master and Commander” was first published in 1969. I was actually reminded a bit of some of the ‘50s and ‘60s sci-fi I’ve read and listened to. There’s a strong, consistent plot, but it plays out gradually and you can’t necessarily predict where the storyline is going. I made exactly one correct guess about a future event in “Master and Commander,” and even then it was more of a ‘I wonder if it’s going to lead to this,’ and it did, but by the time the story got there I’d forgotten because so many other little things had happened in the interim.   

Now… just how gay is this book. If you’re like me and coming from “The Terror,” you may have been told there are Gay Vibes. There are, but you’re going to have to read for it with Aubrey/Maturin. I personally found it very easy to read into, considering Aubrey goes from ‘I hate you’ to ‘I love you please be my ship’s surgeon’ about Maturin in the span of three encounters.

Explicitly, there’s a lot more mention of homosexuality than I expected. While there are general period typical attitudes, our protagonists are rather sympathetic to it and we have a gay character, William Marshall, who it is noted has a crush on Aubrey, and *drumroll* he doesn’t die.

Lastly, I would recommend reading the books in a physical copy if at all possible. I found the ebook version I read from left something to be desired formatting wise. If I’d had a print copy, this review would have been out a week sooner. 

The book can be found here.

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