The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (CBR12 #41)

The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows (Feminine Pursuits, #2)

Let’s get this part out of the way early – I was prepared to love this book and I only really like it.

Here’s the thing: there’s too much story here and I feel like a heel for saying so. But, bear with me.

One of the things I love most in really good romance writing is that the authors aren’t afraid to interact with larger themes. These books aren’t just sexytimes (we have erotica for that) they are not just character studies (although lord knows I love a character study), they are in fact observations about living, and living with emotions. In order to unpack the emotional lives of the characters the authors explore the world around them, and in historical fiction (often hanging out in the Regency era) there is plenty of political turmoil to muck about in.

Waite does just that, laying in the backdrop of her story with the absolute insane drama of George IV’s rise to the throne of England and his attempt to divorce his wife Queen Caroline in 1820. But that isn’t the only story running in the background, we are also dealing with sedition laws, the struggle of the non-free press, women’s political disadvantages across all lines including but not limited to marriage and children, the political power of the church and landed aristocracy to legally enforce morals, and the fact that sexual relationships between men were outlawed and punishable by hanging while the same relationships between women generally flew under the radar and there were no laws specifically criminalizing their activities.

All good, right? Yes, except the balance of these plot points was off. Waite aims big here and delivers a nuanced story set outside the expected. The main story of The Care and Feeding of Waspish Widows is that of Agatha Griffin and Penelope Flood, they are older women (mid to late 40s), queer, and decidedly working class. It’s a lovely slowburn romance (although… maybe a little too slow for me) as these two women meet, strike an unexpected friendship through letters, and become each other’s partner long before they become lovers. The hurdles in their relationship are based on the societal upheavals happening around them as well as the day to day lives they lead.

I did really like this book, and I love that Waite populated her book with characters living all sorts of lives. Some same sex pairs sharing households were together, some were not, and some were left up in the air. Marriages ranged from good to awful, and the clannishness of a small town was explored, as was the parallels to the neighborhoods in London. There’s so much here that’s so good, I just wish I loved it.

Kingdom of the Blind (CBR12 #40)

Kingdom of the Blind (Chief Inspector Armand Gamache, #14)

My local library system has reopened for pick up in the past couple weeks and Kingdom of the Blind was the first of my holds from way back in March to come in. I was excited to see it, I love Louise Penny’s way of crafting story but unsure how much death and destruction I was in the mood for. I decided to give American Kingpin a read first to gauge my mood and decided that I was in fact ready to revisit Inspector Gamache and company.

In classic Gamache tradition Penny is building on the events of the past, in this case leaning heavily on  A Great Reckoning and Glass Houses the immediate predecessors of this book. Amelia Choquet, whom we met in A Great Reckoning is back and we find Gamache, Isabelle Lacoste, and Jean-Guy Beauvoir in dramatically effected circumstances due to the final actions in Glass Houses. Penny often tries on new structural elements in her writing with each book, but this time it’s a return to form, using various story threads to balance each other out and leave the reader wondering, sometimes just a paragraph or two before returning them back to action in progress.

Kingdom of the Blind is at its core dueling stories – the hunt for the drugs that had been released in Glass Houses and the unraveling of why Myrna and Armand have been asked to be executors in a stranger’s will with a third man, and eventually the investigation of the death of one of the heirs. The will and murder plotline held my interest just fine and were typical Gamache territory. But, the hunt for the missing drugs plotline rubbed me the wrong way on two counts. First, character motivations didn’t make sense until a large reveal late in the book which did nothing for the overall reading experience. Penny needed the characters not to know something, but that didn’t mean that the reader shouldn’t. Instead we spend nearly 400 pages with a character acting very out of character. The second is that Penny used terminology in referring to transgender individuals that was not acceptable to me as the reader and while she did have Gamache correct misgendering as it happened, she still used a derogatory term far more often than needed and in a manner which falls into the worse kinds of stereotypes about transgender people and sex workers.

Separate from that complaint, which is not a small one, I was generally enamored of the book. I care very much about the inhabitants of Three Pines and the members of the Sûreté, and Penny balances the two worlds and moves plots ahead for some characters and lets us revisit some in a more status quo, always moving from one to another. But my heart is sad about the possible departure of Jean-Guy and Annie with little Honore to Paris. I have had a particular soft spot for this secondary storyline since very early on and will miss them terribly if they are really leaving.

There is so much backstory that feeds each new novel that I can’t rightly tell you to read this one if you haven’t read its predecessors, but I can emphatically tell you that if you like murder mysteries (and sometimes other kinds of mysteries) that ruminate on the human spirit than these books are for you and go pick up Still Life at your earliest convenience.

American Kingpin (CBR12 #39)

American Kingpin by Nick Bilton

I had already decided to read American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road this year before I saw the Cannonball Read Bingo board, and the minute I saw the Money! square I knew this book had to be the book I read for it. The instructions for the square are rather straightforward: A fiction or non-fiction book about money, acquiring money legally or illegally, or following the money. American Kingpin is a narrative non-fiction recounting of how one man started a website to trade in illegal goods, how his empire grew exponentially into a billion dollar business, the employees he hired, and the government agents who worked to trace the buyers, sellers, website employees, bitcoins, and finally the man behind it all who called himself Dread Pirate Roberts. 

I remember reading the 2011 Wired article about the Silk Road and its place at the forefront of the anonymous, untraceable world of buying and selling drugs on the internet. What I didn’t know is how is all came crashing down just over two years later. For nearly three years one man’s dream of a libertarian oasis (yuck) where the government couldn’t decide for you what was or wasn’t legal to ingest grew into a behemoth of a sales place that specialized in the things you couldn’t find anywhere else. The problem was that dogged investigators found a way to trace what was thought to be untraceable (oh how little mistakes along the way will catch up with you) and unmask the anonymous. They also managed to be shit at their jobs along the way and several of them committed crimes just because they could.

The thing I found most fascinating about this story was the tracing of one relatively small idea (in this case the argument for the legalization of narcotics leading to the idea of providing a place to demonstrate how the open market would work in order to force the government’s hand) can quickly grow into a monster when the person committed to the idea goes a bit megalomaniacal. I’ve seen comparisons between this story and that encapsulated in Bad Blood but what this story has which that one doesn’t is the interior view. The reader of American Kingpin is given access to the thought processes of the mastermind from documents that he wrote only for himself. Cue Stringer Bell.

is you taking notes on a criminal fucking conspiracy? - Not Amused ...

Due to the contents of the book I don’t know that I would recommend it for everyone, the discussions of what was sold on the Silk Road don’t hold back. But this is a highly readable book unpacking a complex crime committed by a bunch of assholes and the complexities of hunting for the perpetrators particularly when law enforcement is busy pissing on each other’s shoes instead of working together. The author, Nick Bilton, writes in a perfectly serviceable manner but it isn’t the heights of great craft. This is a book meant to be consumed – its short chapters feeling more like social media posts at times – and not necessarily thought too deeply about. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t things to unpack, and thoughts to be had. My biggest one was usually “why aren’t these assholes in countries without extradition?”

The Viscount Who Loved Me (CBR12 reread)

The Viscount Who Loved Me | Julia Quinn | Author of Historic ...

Of the early Bridgerton books I loved books three and four, really liked the first, and thought the second was okay on my first read through. The good news headline of this reread review is that I liked this book more the second time through than I did the first. The plot of the book is a bit thinner than its predecessor, but that isn’t a bad thing. In The Viscount Who Loved Me we follow Anthony and Kate as they maneuver through the 1814 season, Anthony having decided that this year he will marry and since he has decided to not pursue a love match he plans to set his cap for the incomparable of the year. Kate’s sister Edwina happens to be that girl and his haphazard pursuit of Edwina leads Anthony to spending more and more time with Kate, until they find themselves caught in a position where they will be forced to marry. The underlying themes Quinn is working with are fear and memory, both Kate and Anthony have an irrational fear, and it is linked to a memory – Anthony can remember his, but Kate cannot remember hers. They unpack those fears, and build a solid relationship, and get their happily ever after in just under 300 pages.

But this is still a three-star book for me and I think a big part of that is that I just don’t think that Anthony Bridgerton is the hero for me. Part of the problem is that Anthony is no Simon and Simon is definitely my type of hero. Anthony spends most of the first book, and a decent amount of the early pages of the second, being a complete ass, and not in the loveable way. He’s also short of being an Alphahole – another area that works for me. Anthony is simultaneously too much and not enough, and I still don’t know how to reconcile myself to that. I also still dislike that Quinn chose to write two back to back “married because they have to” stories to open her series, but it bothered me much less this time through.

I feel bad for how little I like Anthony, because I love Kate, and I really like Anthony with Kate. Kate Sheffield is a heroine of the wallflowers pantheon, overlooked by the tastemakers, playing second fiddle to her younger sister even though they are incredibly close. She’s bright, and witty, and just plain fun to be around as we the reader get let in on her nearly silent rejoinders. She also shakes loose something in Anthony, the fun, and perhaps my favorite scene in the entire book is the Pall Mall match when they are absolutely riling each other up for the fun of it (also, if you read this try to find a copy with the second epilogue included – it’s another Pall Mall match and almost as good as the first).

All that said, this was a perfectly lovely way to spend two evenings without power thanks to Tropical Storm Isaias, so I’m left more happy than not.