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I am frustrated in my desire to love this series. I love the concept (all the sff/fantasy/gothic novels of the 19th century were true in the same universe) and I love the characters (the daughters or female creations of the men in all those novels come together in a found family and have adventures). But this is the second book in the series in which I found the plot thin and the narrative style ponderous and somewhat bloated.

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.

After some dithering, I decided to see only one show on this trip to New York. (There always seems to be a non-zero chance that either Lauri or I will get a cold while I'm visiting, and besides I wanted to manage at least two dinner meet-ups with friends. So maybe sometimes I don't have to over-schedule my visits?) We decided to walk down from Lauri's place to the theater district and pick a place for dinner along the way, which ended up being the Oxbow Tavern. Food served in a very trendy presentation (truffle foam around my pan-fried hallibut) but quite delicious.

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.

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