Last Night at the Telegraph Club (#34)

In Last Night at the Telegraph Club Malinda Lo created National Book Award for Young People’s Literature winner which aims to challenge pervasive perceptions of the 1950s in the United States, including stereotypes about Chinese Americans, the invisibility of the lesbian and gay community, and the role of women in the space program, and the reach of Red Scare paranoia on people’s day to day lives. It is also the story of two young women falling in love during their senior year of high school and navigating all the things that seemed destined to keep them apart.

So much of queer history is about reading between the lines and understanding the meaning behind coded words and actions. It helps create the “gal pal” problem in historical recounting – its good historical practice to not assign labels you cannot support, but with so much of the evidence going unnoticed by those who aren’t adequately trained or who are actively seeking to ignore it, people’s lived experiences get missed or erased. Lo’s research for this began with the desire to uncover the stories of the lesbians who lived in and around Chinatown in the 1950s, and her dedicated research shines through in the authenticity of the narrative she was able to craft.

I just wish I liked it better. I have a firm feeling this is a case of I’m not the audience Lo wrote this book for, in that I am no longer a young adult. There’s plenty of story for me – or anyone – here, thus my indecision of whether to round my 3.5 up or down, but the pacing felt slow to me, and part of that was in the way the layers of the story were laid in, the structures familiar to me now as hallmarks of YA. Which isn’t to say this isn’t well written, the opposite is true. But I can’t make myself give it a higher rating, but I am looking forward to discussing it for #CannonBookClub.

Fuzz (CBR14 #33)

Apparently, it’s been a few years since I read a Mary Roach book, which seems like a terrible oversight. I generally love Roach’s books, even when the topic isn’t quite my jam (looking at you, Grunt). Its pretty simple to determine why – Mary Roach is hysterically funny. Ever since my first endeavor with her writing when I read Packing for Mars in 2015, I’ve been lowkey in love with her writing style, and am aware that I try to keep my own writing similarly lighthearted when its appropriate. Roach doesn’t keep herself off the page, and it reliably provides the way in for her audience, as she is the commensurate curious outsider in every topic she introduces to her readers. I’m always going to enjoy reading Roach’s books, and her particular brand of letting-the-reader-in-on-the-joke writing about non-fiction.

Fuzz: When Nature Breaks the Law is in some ways a departure from her normal topic – people. Roach has investigated our relationship with sex (Bonk), food (Gulp), death (Stiff and Spook – the last of her solo books I haven’t read), and war (Grunt).   The argument can be made that the heart of Fuzz (which – great pun as usual) is about people’s relationship with animals, the book is more about the animals themselves and how humans are trying to wrap our brains around what to do with them as we continue to get in their way.

This is a three star one for me, while Roach uses her trademark focus on the weird eddies of science and discovery to unpack the idea of “problem” animals is really not about the animals, this one felt like it was missing a central thesis.  Each idea was linked to the next, but if you look at them from the macro you wouldn’t necessarily be able to predict how, and I’m not sure a couple weeks after finishing what I was supposed to really take away from this book, except the knowledge that I would get on famously with the Bear Bitches.

Lockdown on London Lane (CBR14 #32)

I have been rabidly on the hunt for Lockdown on London Lane since January, having requested it from any library source I possibly could. It eventually arrived to me in early April and in the middle of a bunch of other things (and other books) I blew through it. Was I captivated? No. Did I skim a bit? Yes, but by design that’s a thing that can be done without losing the plot. Did it give me what I was hoping it would? Yes, I got the forced proximity romance I was hoping to find, at least in one of the stories. The basic description of Lockdown on London Lane reminded me favorably of The Distance Between Us, but unfortunately for me it wasn’t as good as that fic.

Lockdown on London Lane is the bit of writing that its author, Beth Reekles (known for The Kissing Booth books), did as her lockdown activity. Its episodic, following several apartments worth of people in one apartment building on a one-week lockdown early in a pandemic that sounds an awful lot like the one we’ve spent the past two years living through, though it remains unnamed. The groupings we follow include Ethan and the forced absent Charlotte, where Ethan spends his week alone wondering whether absence really does make the heart grow fonder and that what he wants with Charlotte is permanence. A seemingly innocuous fight about pineapple on pizza becomes the beginning of the possible end of the four-year relationship of Zach and Serena in another apartment. The third grouping is in Liv’s apartment where her weekend of hosting an extended bridesmaids’ party turns into 9 days in tight quarters with four people and a lot of emotions, leaving the group at each other’s throats. Isla and Danny’s new romance of about a month is put to the test as they jump ten steps ahead on the relationship timeline and Isla must decide if she’s willing to drop her remaining facades to keep the relationship that feels so much different than all the ones who came before. And finally, Imogen and Nate’s one-night stand turns into an awkward seven days as Imogen is forced to reverse walk of shame back to Nate’s apartment on the morning of the lockdown after having successfully snuck out in his Ramones t-shirt, upsetting whatever it was that might have been between them if they were looking for anything in the first place.

The story I was looking for, and enjoyed the most, was Imogen and Nate. Imogen is a hot mess of a human, bouncing from one life event to the next all while successfully holding down a teaching job. Nate is a serial monogamist who is looking to break his rut, and a one-night stand with Imogen seems the thing, until he and she must reckon with what comes next, especially as they must share his apartment. Reekles pulls all her various threads together into one final moment involving all her characters, and I didn’t mind it (featuring my third favorite pairing of Charlotte and Ethan, but mostly I love the friendship we see in the sidelines between Ethan and Nate), but I definitely skipped most chapters which centered on the break-up in slow motion between Zach and Serena (but my own life may have been effecting my desire to read that right now) and the bridesmaids, which is a bummer as that apartment featured the only queer plot, but I couldn’t deal with the characters.

For the Love of April French (CBR14 #31)

For the Love of April French is an immensely readable book with a strong authorial voice that is a wonderful fluffy romance playing in the D/s kink realm. It’s the story of April and Dennis who have a temporary no-strings sex agreement, but Dennis is secretly trying to woo April, which is a great trope to build an emotions-first BDSM romance around.

Dennis and April are wonderfully flawed and human characters. Aimes writes with her characters humanities front and center. April and Dennis can be easily broken down into their demographics, but that dramatically undersells the characterization that is achieved. Those demographics matter – and the characters deal with them, and the ways they have built their experience of the world – but Aimes steadfastly builds a full picture of each character’s humanity, which is always a treat to find in any book, but especially in a debut.

This book is about a love story, but it’s also a story about growth. Each character actively chooses to change, to grow, including both going to therapy. Dennis’s path sees him starting the book very insecure after horrifically messing up his marriage which he takes responsibility for, and Aimes lets that be what we know – that he fucked up, there is no equivocating about it. Dennis gets a kink mentor and educates himself both about his preferred kink and issues surrounding trans women. Best of all when he screws up (because everyone screws up… again we’re human), he owns the error and does better. April is a trans woman with a fair amount of insecurity and trauma because the world is not a kind place to trans, genderqueer, and non-binary folks. She’s a smart, attractive heroine who is nevertheless unrepentantly insecure. She’s been hurt many times and has built a way of moving through the world designed to protect her from hoping for too much, and throughout the work we see her learn to accept the sort of care and support that she has been pouring into her friends for years, and more importantly accept it from her romantic partner.

Ten Steps to Nanette (CBR14 #30)

I feel like this is going to be a tough one for me to review, because my relationship with the content that Hannah Gadsby creates is so personal to me and has been frankly crucial to how I am coming to understand myself that it’s a bit difficult to try to take that out of the equation and look at Ten Steps to Nanette on its own. I’ve likely watched Nanette half a dozen times in the past couple of years (and once again in preparing this review) and I have easily watched Douglas, the next special, several dozen times. Partly because its very, very good but also because of how she discusses Autism and neuro-divergency more broadly, both of which are crucial to the story Gadsby writes in Ten Steps to Nanette, and crucial to the knowing of me.

I have been rabid for this book since I discovered it existed. Or would exist. I haunted NetGalley looking for it, put in my request as soon as it was listed, and waited impatiently for the denial I was sure was coming as I heard nothing for nearly three months. And then I got the email, and I did a weird happy dance at work, startling my coworkers. Because my brain works differently.

Which is a very long walk to telling you that there are portions of this book that made me cry, not because of what Gadsby has gone through and survived, but because of the eloquent way she has in describing what can sometimes feel so isolating, and the language she puts to not trusting a diagnosis that feels right because it doesn’t look or feel like you were told it would.  Of not feeling at home in your own skin when out in the world, but when you are in your own quiet home feeling deeply yourself. Of all the times that the world insists on being more than you can process in any given moment, how if you have just the right sorts of presentations or coping mechanisms you will have to fight to be taken seriously that you are not – in fact – doing all that well. That you will have to fight to believe yourself, to not let anyone diminish your own lived experience.

As much as Ten Steps to Nanette is set up in a typical memoir format, it also works differently. Some of it is a bit cheeky, starting with an epilogue and ending with a prologue, but they are also used exactly as they are titled. It isn’t a play on words, Gadsby is intentionally taking the pieces and putting them in the order that best serves her needs. Some chapters (or steps) are very short while others are much longer. Some bounce back and forth from the personal to the national, some are more biographical, others still are written in a more active voice much more like her stage work. But because Gadsby is very good at what she does the tone of this book stays the same: these are the facts, and this is how I felt, but the how of the tone is what changes because each step (and the wilderness years she generally leaves unexplored, this is not tragedy porn) need to be handled in their own way. By allowing her story the space it needs to be told in the manner it needs to be told in she is doing an incredibly important bit of writing as people all over who fall into many of her intersectionalities are struggling to remain safe and seen. She takes her rare bit of luck and her privileges and shines the light where it needs to be shined, without making herself or anyone else the victim of the story. Bad things happen, people are victimized, but that is not where the story ends or lingers.

I tried to take my time, craft an in-depth review as I needed to sit with it a bit longer, give it a good think. Something I think Gadsby would entirely understand as I waited for the words to form, and then come out of my head and into the world. There is so much here, so much truth, so much reflection, so much care spent weaving in actual history with personal history, all leading to something that aims to deliver great meaning (and succeeds). And with legitimately funny footnotes tucked in, a personal favorite (not to diminish the intentionally not funny ones). I’m still not sure I’ve been able to.

I have, for instance, not delved into the structure of Nanette and how it became the thing that Gadsby needed to do, how the renouncement of self-deprecation, the rejection of misogyny, and the moral significance of truth-telling became a thing she could no longer not prioritize for her own well-being. Of how the world in 2017 caught up to her in some ways and the international resurgence of #metoo provided a springboard for Gadsby’s work into a larger sphere. Of how deciding she must be done has meant that she is now continuing in a different but healthier way. Of how so much of this work is about reassessment and reexamination – about queer identity, past trauma, and Autism and of giving the time needed to move away from the mental landscape of “there is something wrong with me and I should feel ashamed” towards “this is how I am made, and that’s enough to be worthy of all the good.”

CW: Assault, molestation, rape, injury, isolation, suicidal ideation, body image or other mental health difficulties (It should be noted that Gadsby put these in the book’s early sections where they belong – and stopped several times in the narrative to level set and remind the reader what they were going to encounter if they kept going. It is the kind of empathy and critical thought which I love and wish more authors did, even while I am putting this near the tail end of my own review.)

5 unabashed neurodivergent stars.

I received an ARC of Ten Steps to Nanette from Ballantine Books via NetGalley. It has not affected the contents of this review, only its timing. The book publishes March 29, 2022.

Something Fabulous (CBR14 #29)

Quickly on the heels of reading Alexis Hall’s Boyfriend Material last month I requested Something Fabulous from the library keen to see how Hall’s voice translated from contemporary romance to historical. The verdict: mostly quite good with moments of brilliant, but also moments of not good at all. I’ve gone with a 3.5 rounded up for this one.

We’ve got the story here of Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern, and his twin problems: Belle and Bonny Tarleton. Operating under his deceased father’s desire for  Valentine to marry Miss Arabella “Belle” Tarleton, unfortunately she has decided she will not have him and flees into the night determined never to set eyes on him again. Belle’s twin brother, Mr. Bonaventure “Bonny” Tarleton expects Valentine to ride out after Arabella and prove to her that he’s not the cold-hearted scoundrel he seems to be. A hungover Valentine finds himself pursuing Belle to Dover with Bonny by his side. During their time together Valentine finds Bonny to be unreasonable, overdramatic, annoying, and…beautiful? And being with him makes Valentine question everything he thought he knew. About himself. About love. Even about which Tarleton he should be pursuing.

Hall is very good at what he does we are shown the things that we need to know to unpack the neuroses, inhibitions, and things that make his leads feel other, or afraid to hope (those last two often the same). This is the second romance with a demisexual lead I’ve read in the past six months (the other the glorious The Queer Principles of Kit Webb by Cat Sebastian) and I though Hall handled it beautifully, the slowly dawning realization for Valentine the longer he spends in the company of Bonny worked for me. As did the pacing of their developing relationship, and the crux of being asked, being chosen. While the chase through the countryside had its highlights, it was the time at the hunting lodge that firmly rounded this one up for me.

The things that don’t work for me all circle around Belle, Bonny’s quite awful twin sister. The book opens with Belle absolutely loosing her mind about the terrible and oppressive proposal by Valentine… which left me immediately concerned about proceeding with the book at all since the reader is dumped into this dramatic overreaction with no background, and spends the rest of the book, some 350 pages, wrapping our minds around what exactly her problem is. And its… something that makes sense at the end, and I can see Hall picking at the need to view all people as just that, but the ever-increasing histrionics and lying that Belle does make her loathsome as opposed to a character we can find any reason to care for and left a bad taste in my mouth reminiscent of Sarina Bowen’s The Fifteenth Minute. This book is without a villain – Belle is the antagonist, and Valentine seems uniquely committed to getting in his own way – but Hall writes her in a way that is just too close to irredeemable and as she is crucial to Bonny we almost must care about the final part of her story and I simply didn’t want to, nor did I want her to have the good turn she receives.  

I’ve received an ARC of Hall’s next queer historical romance, A Lady for a Duke, and am looking forward to seeing how Hall moves from this book with possibly an entirely queer cast (seriously, so much it was great) to the story with a trans heroine and her Duke next month.

In the Woods (CBR14 #28)

I can see in this book where everything I loved about The Searcher got its start. However, I am not sad to no longer be in the minds’ eye of Detective Rob Ryan. The narration of In the Woods is entirely in first person, he is telling the reader the story as it happened from somewhere in the near future. He opens the book by announcing that he is an unreliable narrator. It is both true and not, depending on how you define that style of narration. Mostly he is unreliable because he is always lying, actively hiding his identity from everyone around him, except his partner Cassie Maddox. We’re not seeing his experiences objectively, we’re seeing it the way he does, filtered through his thoughts, biases, fears, and desires. Rob is, in a word, a mess. French pulls at every bit of that mess to craft her story.

The book opens in the small Dublin suburb of Knocknaree in the summer of 1984. Three children do not return from the woods one August night and when the police arrive, they find only one of the children. He is gripping a tree trunk in terror, wearing blood-filled sneakers and unable to recall a single detail of the previous hours. The other two are never found. Twenty years later, the found boy is our narrator Rob Ryan is now a detective on the (fictional) Dublin Murder Squad who keeps his past a secret. But when a 12-year-old girl is found murdered in the same woods, he and Detective Cassie Maddox (not just his partner but his closest friend) find themselves investigating a case distressingly like the previous unsolved mystery. Ryan has a chance to solve a grisly case, and possibly get some closure on his own traumatic childhood.

And that is the story that Tana French is telling, but it’s the barest of outlines – we’re with Rob, Cassie, and the rest of their assembled team through a month of investigating that takes them down paths uncovering all sorts of other crimes from 1984 and 2004 both. The copy I read had 425 pages and there is plot and character development on each of them, including the very last one. This is a very good book, but it was also a heavy reading experience.

There doesn’t seem to be a whole lot of consensuses about exactly what type of book French writes: detective books, mysteries, psychological suspense are all possibilities and I think they’re all present here. Which when this book was published 15 years ago pushed the boundaries of what these genres can be and do.  In many crime fiction books the central mystery is focused on discovering the murderer or other criminal. French is much more interested in who the detective is, what kind of person puts truth and its discovery above all else, and at what cost. French’s writing is consuming. There were also times where it was agonizing to read as the Knocknaree case wrecks Rob’s life, his career, his friendship with Cassie. But its in the how that French delivers these outcomes, by giving the reader something they may have thought they wanted earlier in the book, but by the time it arrives they see it for the self-destructive disaster it is, where the book becomes its heaviest, its toughest sit. It took me over a month to read this book, and not because I was savoring it. I needed time to recover between sections, time to deal with the oncoming train that Rob was jumping in front of.

A Psalm for the Wild-Built (CBR14 #27)

I cried far more often during this 147-page read than I’m strictly comfortable with, but the wise characters in this book would reassure me that my being comfortable with something isn’t a pre-requisite for it having worth.

For the first third of this novella, we are with Sibling Dex getting a feel for them and the world they live in. Dex lives on the moon Panga where centuries before the robots of Panga gained self-awareness, laid down their tools, and recoiled from Factory life. They had brokered an understanding with the humans, known as the Parting Promise, where the continent of Panga was divided equally between the humans and the robots who wandered into the wilderness, and haven’t been seen since. Fast forward to now (and about a third of the way into the story) and the life of Sibling Dex, the tea monk (great job – wander the countryside offering comfort to others by providing a time to unload their emotions and rest with tea to restore), is upended by the arrival of a robot, Mosscap, there to honor the old promise of checking in. Mosscap cannot return until the question of “what do people need?” is answered and is unprepared for Sibling Dex’s distress and inability to provide the answer to that question because the answer depends on who you ask, when, and how.

What follows in the rest of the novella is Mosscap and Dex coming to an agreement, Dex will answer Mosscap’s questions to the best of their ability if Mosscap gets them safely to the Hermitage up the mountain deep in the wilderness where humans have left the land for the Robots. The plot here though, isn’t really the purpose. Psalm for the Wild-Built is yet another example of the character driven stories of which Chambers excels.  

We have Sibling Dex who is at a place, mentally and emotionally, where they are just tired. They are soul tired. I can relate. They had identified a purpose for their life, and then identified another one and did the hard work to make that new purpose happen, and then were able to excel at it. But it still left them with this aching within, a want of an undefinable more, a fixation on a thing they cannot have. It created a place within them that desperately needed the self-care that they so willingly offered to others but had forgotten in some fundamental way to give themselves.

Then we have Mosscap who volunteered to go alone into the unknown and report back. It didn’t have a plan other than to wander out of the wilderness until it came across a person, to be the first robot to do that in over two hundred years. Mosscap is a generalist, someone who is fascinated by everything. This inquisitiveness, this desire to discover, means it is uniquely placed to provide a sounding board that Sibling Dax needs, and to slowly discover the great mystery of the human condition.

Because this novella is a meditation on what we call the human condition. Chambers weaves together the struggle to find purpose, to know what our purpose even is, to find meaning in our lives both individually and in community to form a tapestry of personhood. Chambers captures what informs our natures and uses the small details that tell us so much about who we are, crafting vivid writing to discuss identity and personhood. All underpinned with unrelenting hope and connection, even when the characters aren’t sure it exists. Chambers makes for us a hymn, a psalm, for how we can choose to be. Like so many others I am very excited to see what comes next in A Prayer for the Crown-Shy.

The Dark Queens (CBR14 #26)

I work in Public History, but any good public historian (or historian of any stripe) will tell you that it is nearly impossible to know all eras and areas well. There are inevitable blind spots – you have to choose where to apply your limited time. When this year’s Read Harder challenge asked us to read a history about a period you know little about, I was stoked, an excuse to go back further than I normally do and read about some women doing the leading. I had picked out Four Queens: The Provençal Sisters Who Ruled Europe from my to read list (where it has been languishing since 2014)as my pick (and I will still be reading that history about 13th century queens) but Pooja’s review of The Dark Queens in January sent me scurrying to NetGalley and adding that book to my list immediately.

Before picking this book up, I knew practically nothing about 6th century France, or either Fredegund or Brunhild. But it was the subtitle that leapt out to me: The Bloody Rivalry That Forged the Medieval World. In this work of narrative non-fiction, author Shelley Puhak is very clear about that as well as the methodology she used in the research and writing, the existent historical record is used to piece together roughly sixty years of history where Fredegund and Brunhild serve as the stabilizing force, while also upending the systems they were born into. As the European world wrestles with the fall of the Roman Empire, powerful families emerge to take the lead, but it is not a clean or easy affair and through these two women we are able to glean a view into that world. We also see how methodically the stories of their successes were erased or overwritten, how they were recast by those who followed, after their deaths their stories were rewritten, their names consigned to slander and legend, and their legacies buried for over a thousand years.

Brunhild was a Spanish princess, raised to be married off for the sake of alliance-building. Her sister-in-law Fredegund started out as a palace slave. Their paths cross in the middle of the Merovingian Empire where women were excluded from noble succession and royal politics was a blood sport. They formed coalitions and broke them, mothered children, and lost them. They fought a years-long civil war. But these two reigned over vast realms for decades – their combined empires only to be eclipsed by Charlemagne who would build his empire from the ashes of theirs 150 years later – commanding armies and negotiating with kings and popes and ruling as regents.

While Puhak captures the complexity of the women and the courts they lived and ruled in, and this unfamiliar time, striking at the roots of some of our culture’s stubbornest myths about female power, the book is at times uneven, and sometimes strays too far from the titular queens. The scope of this work is a big ask of any book, or any author, and the final copy I ended up reading (out from the library as I had failed to download my publisher provided copy before it was archived) had a few errors which confused matters. This is also a slow read, dense with names, dates, and details. Puhak provides a Dramatis Personae at the beginning, as well as maps throughout, and that’s good because I found myself needing to refer to them as I made my way through the narrative over the course of a week.

I received an ARC of The Dark Queens from Bloomsbury Publishing via NetGalley, it has not affected the contents of this review.

Her Favorite Rebound and A Very Beery New Year (CBR14 #24 & 25)

Her Favorite Rebound

Sierra Wu is thirty-four, divorced, does not want children and is a constant disappointment to her family. They are horrified that she quit her engineering job (that she hated) to run a small greeting card store (that she loves) four years ago. Sierra is used to living a pretty small life, so the last thing she expected was being swept off her feet by Colton Sanders, the billionaire (think Jeff Bezos type). They’ve been together for a year, and despite his reputation with women, it’s going well, but she has yet to tell her family. There’s only one tiny problem: Jake Tong. A former friend and employee of Colton, the irritatingly handsome Jake tells Sierra to break up with Colton for her own good. She refuses, of course. Why should she trust Jake? But as she continues to bump into Jake, the attraction between them grows, and she starts wondering if he’s right about Colton, and then she must decide what to do.

I thoroughly enjoyed Jake and Sierra together. They work well as a couple and watching Jake live up to his promise to treat Sierra well soothed some very scratchy places in my heart. This book’s plot could be a tough sit, but Lau threads the needle carefully. Sierra and Jake begin the emotional side of their relationship while she’s still in a relationship with Colton, but by placing boundaries – and Jake accepting those boundaries – Sierra is able to take her time, and take the reader with her, through the process of ending one relationship and starting another. Even if she thinks its just a rebound, when its been obvious that there is much more here, it just had less than great timing.

This book is all about characters working through their emotions. Sierra’s relationship with Colton isn’t good, but it is also fulfilling a need for Sierra at the time. Through much of the book we are with Sierra as she unpacks what her relationship with Colton is, what her emotions about him are, can he be trusted, and is she happy. That question about happiness also extends to her family, who are quite awful overall. But the things she never has to question are if her work makes her happy, or if she’s attracted to Jake, and if he sees her in a way others don’t. We’re also with Jake as he is struck with seemingly instant love for Sierra the moment he sees her across the restaurant. He spends time deciding if that is even possible, and can he manage to demonstrate his emotions to her by respecting her boundaries – especially when he knows he can’t trust Colton.

The other major emotional beat here is worth and family expectations. Jake is recovering from working for Colton and tarnishing his soul in the pursuit of money. He is making amends for having helped a billionaire earn more at the expense of others. But he doesn’t feel he’s a good enough person, still, to be happy and at every turn his brother confirms that back to him. Sierra is made so miserable by her family by their expectations of who she should be that she has learned to accept less, to not need much of anything at all. She must find that she is worth happiness and someone who sees her as she is and is proud of her for becoming the person she wants to be.

Between those two things Jake and Sierra are a well-matched pair and this book works through the various things that are keeping them apart, and then the things that are keeping them from truly being together once they start a physical relationship. So why not more than four stars? The pacing in the chapters felt a bit off – sometimes hardly any time passed, sometimes weeks passed. I found myself wanting more of what we didn’t have on page, and for that reason I can’t rate this one any higher. But this is a story I am glad to have read, and that I’m glad Lau tackled writing. She works through getting her characters to let go of the shoulds, and that’s something many of us need to see reflected in what we read.

I received Her Favorite Rebound as an ARC from the author in exchange for an honest review.

It publishes March 29, 2022

A Very Beery New Year

While working my way through my ARC of Her Favorite Rebound I remembered that I had another novella in the series waiting for me as a newsletter exclusive. Feeling in the mood for more Lau I settled in to run through this 54-page story and am I ever glad I did.

A Very Beery New Year brings us to Thursdays at Leslieville Craft Beer where software developer Gerald Nakamura goes after work to “socialize”, which by his definition involves sitting at a bar, surrounded by a room full of people reading a book. The bright spot of this ritual is when he exchanges a few words with the cute bartender, Kelsey Rye. For her part Kelsey is finding that she looks forward to Thursdays at four when Gerald walks through the door and finds herself attracted to the slightly gruff but ultimately kind man. As the months go by, their conversations get longer, and her excited rambling makes him smile – or they would if that was a thing he did. They start texting and getting to know each other but Gerald and Kelsey both doubt the other wants anything more than what they have – which one will be the one to be brave, and take the next step?

I loved this one, it’s a delightful Grumpy/Sunshine studded through with so much great mutual pining while also doing one of my favorite things in being told episodically over a year. I think Lau’s novella length works are my favorite of hers, she nails the pacing of these dead on. She also gives us just enough exposition to know these characters, we’ve met Kelsey in the Cider Bar Sisters Book Three, The Professor Next Door, but Gerald is new to those of us reading through the series. He is a major Grump; he could easily veer into unlikeable. But because Kelsey sees him for how much that Grump exterior surrounds a kind center, we as the reader get to as well. My heart was made happy whenever Gerald quietly supported Kelsey, by unquestioningly supporting her need to be estranged from her parents or telling her that she never has to be sorry for telling him a thing she’s excited about, no matter how many words it takes. I could easily have read another 200 pages of these two, but I’m also glad Lau capped it here. I suggest getting your hands on this one if you can, it’s a good one. (4.5 stars, rounded up.)