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What I knew about this book going in was that it concerned a young woman and a mechanical chess-playing automaton in the early 19th century. I expected intrigues and hoaxes and--given that I bought it though a lesbian book distributor--some amount of queer identity. What I didn’t expect was a dark psychological thriller that kept me on the edge of my seat right up to the end. This is not a fluffy, feel-good comfort read. It’s a gripping adventure and mystery that left me both satisfied and emotionally wrung out.

I've decided to give myself persmission to DNF (did not finish) books if they don't grab me in the first couple chapters (or first couple stories for a collection). With that as preface, you can guess that The Caretaker's Daughter ended up falling in that category. So why didn't it grab me?

I really loved the concept of the Sword and Sonnet anthology (edited by Aidan Doyle, Rachael K. Jones, and E. Catherine Tobler--all of whose work I admire). Battle poets! An intriguing premise. I backed the kickstarter and regretted that I didn't have space in my schedule to try writing something to submit. So I'm honestly bewildered that the collection is falling flat for me. Maybe this just isn't the right time. I'm not in the right mood. I dunno. I read the first few stories and the skimmed through several more and they all felt...gray and flat and of a sameness. And dreary.

The anthology Rainbow Bouquet edited by Farah Mendlesohn marks something of a reorganizational reboot for Manifold Press, which specializes in LGBTQ historical fiction. Given that focus, I was a little surprised that only half the stories in the collection have historic settings (and one is clearly future/science fictional). That’s not a comment on the writing, only that I had a bit of expectation whiplash.

Emma Donoghue writes the sort of historical fiction that makes one unsurprised that she’s a historian first. This isn’t meant to be a criticism! But it can be crucial to know what you’re getting into and set your expectations appropriately.

The Arrival of Lady Suthmeer is a historical romp, with the light-hearted tone intruded on by brief bits of sexual importuning and violence. Lavinia juggles her passionate desire for the married Lady Suthmeer, the unwanted interest of Lord Suthmeer, the sad necessity for a woman to marry, and the awkward surprise that her betrothed expects to defend her reputation.

One of the reasons I anxiously anticipate every new Aliette de Bodard release is because I can just assume there will be casual queerness somewhere in every story. (Note: I’m not entirely fond of the wording “incidental lesbians” that has become popular in lesfic circles because I’m not interested in either the characters or their orientations being “incidental”--I want them to be essential to the story, just not in a way that makes orientation or identity itself the essence of the story. For me “casual queerness” better evokes the thing that makes me happy.)

There is nothing quite so frustrating to me as coming late to a wonderful book because the cover synopsis deliberately concealed the information that would lead me to put it on my TBR list. And given my reading habits, that usually happens when the publisher has decided to erase all but the vaguest hint of queer content.

It’s funny what reputation can do: if you’d handed me A Study in Honor knowing nothing except what’s in the blurb, I’d probably have told you that I’m not really into near-future dystopian political thrillers, even one that’s  re-visioning of Holmes and Watson featuring two queer black women. But tell me that [author I love] is coming out with a new series under a new nom de plume and I’ll give anything she writes a try. I would have missed out on a great book if I’d gone just by my usual genre and setting preferences.

Two young women in turn-of-the-century San Francisco come of age, struggle to find their feet, and find each other. Kerry had a rough beginning, often on the far side of the law, and more comfortable taken for a boy in trousers than playing the girl. Only a chance alliance between her father and an up-and-coming doctor gave her a chance at a way out of the rough Barbary Coast neighborhood. Beth’s strict middle-class upbringing gave her a surer future, but one where she struggled to make her own choices even as a brilliant nursing student.

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