Review: Imperial Stout (Trouble Brewing #1) by Layla Reyne

  The Spartans were famous for their shield walls.” “Shield walls?” “When under attack, a Spartan phalanx would lock shields and advance together. As one. They were nearly impenetrable. Saved countless lives.” Not so non sequitur after all. “Before you dig into this further, Price, think long and hard whether your shield of one is enough. For both— for all —our sakes.”

The Spartans were famous for their shield walls.” “Shield walls?” “When under attack, a Spartan phalanx would lock shields and advance together. As one. They were nearly impenetrable. Saved countless lives.” Not so non sequitur after all. “Before you dig into this further, Price, think long and hard whether your shield of one is enough. For both— for all —our sakes.”

Imperial Stout is the first book in Layla Reyne’s romantic suspense series Trouble Brewing, which exists as a companion/spin-off series to her previously published Agents Irish and Whiskey series. The book is hot, hot, hot, and the reading equivalent of the summer’s action blockbuster, with way more sex. Steamy, powerful, dynamic sex.

The story revolves around Assistant United States Attorney Dominic ‘Nic’ Price and the Assistant Special Agent in Charge he’s working with, Cameron Byrne, affectionately (and very, very sexily) called ‘Boston’. By Nic, and Nic alone, of course. After a case is botched by third-party interference, costing a diplomat’s wife her life, Cam and Nic have to decide just how trustworthy their CI is, just how far they’ll go to solve this case, and just how long they can dance around each other before their sexual chemistry blows up in their face. They’ve shared a kiss, and now lives, careers, and families are on the line.

An action-packed book from start to finish, the plot drops you in running and asks you to catch up, or get left behind. Nothing is inherently complicated, but as a political suspense novel, there are a lot of acronyms and departmental names/positions to get used to handling at first. It’s not an insurmountable wall, but was a bit of a speedbump. As was the feeling that there was just that little bit of something extra I was missing about all these characters. Now, I take responsibility for this feeling as a reader, because this is a series adjacent to another that’s already been published, that I chose not to read before diving into this one. Mostly because time is a fickle, fickle mistress and I still haven’t figured out how to read books in my sleep yet.

I want to make it really, really clear that this book can absolutely stand on it’s own, and I didn’t necessarily feel as though this book was lacking anything. It was more that I could see these clearly open doors and breadcrumbs as I made my way down the path of this narrative, and those little glimpses were just enough to remind me that there were things I may not be fully grasping the weight of, because of X, Y, or Z. It’s always difficult to judge what you don’t know is missing from a narrative, but sometimes that feeling of this ghost narrative lingers more strongly in some stories in this one. If anything, it’s pushed the Agents Irish and Whiskey books that much further up my list.

Those two minor issues aside, however, I really enjoyed reading this book. It was everything I didn’t know I wanted, largely because romantic suspense is one of my lesser read romantic subgenres.  Which doesn’t really make any sense to me, when I think about it, given my love of high drama, high stakes narratives, and it’s a blindspot I plan on remedying as fast as I possibly can!

The tension between Cam and Nic builds really beautifully alongside the dynamics of the case they’re solving, and one of the things I loved most about this book was Layla’s ability to balance the overarching narrative of the entire series she’s establishing in this book with the quickly moving bottle-narrative of this first book. It’s a trick dance to do, but this book does a really great job, and it leaves the reader with a HFN that’s both deeply satisfying and intrinsically addicting.

Cam is bisexual man, and Nic is gay and out at work, which comes up in discussion at a couple of times in the book to really interesting effect. In the first scene, we see Nic outlining his sexual orientation (along with his inflammatory and trouble-making nature) being a reason he’ll probably never be promoted from AUSA, whereas Cam’s bisexuality makes it easier for him to straight-pass and thus avoid the question entirely.

More than that, he was gay, very out about it, and that wouldn’t fly with the current administration, even at a post in San Francisco. Maybe if he were bi, like Cam, he could pull it off, but he wasn’t. He liked men, period. He’d never wavered, even when his sexual orientation had gotten him disowned.

The second scene involves their Confidential Informant, Abby, who is attracted to Cam. Cam, under his ruse of being a cop-turned-B&E artist, doesn’t discourage her attraction in an effort to further cement his cover. It’s never presented as a point of insecurity or doubt for Nic, which is important, but Cam’s orientation does allow Abby to explain away the relationship she knows to exist between Cam and Nic.

“So that kiss last night was a lie too?” “I had to know whether you were lying. If you were still on Becca’s side, for real, I had to sell the rogue cover. I need to stay close, if I’m going to get you and your sister out of this.” Sighing, she sank onto the end of the bed. “Who the fuck am I supposed to trust? How do I know you’re not lying now? Becca’s got me tied in knots and you just pulled a fucking one-eighty. Which end is up?

I point out these two moments specifically not because they bothered me in any way, but because I think they’re incredibly interesting and important in a book where we’re looking at a m/m relationship that’s not a strictly homosexual relationship, amidst a world where Alphaholes and hegemonic masculine standards can run amuck. It was one of the best parts of the book for me, outside of the sex scenes, and I just so greatly appreciated the way Layla framed the outlines of this particular relationship!

I should probably finish by discussing the sex scenes in this book, because Lordy were they just smoking hot from start to finish. No closed doors here, folks — doors thrown wide open and tables reinforced here, folks! It’s five-alarm, in no small part because of the external stakes on this relationship. It’s a tale as old as time that it’s ten times hotter to sex up the person you love if you think there’s a good chance they’ll die during their bank heist tomorrow.

I mean, in the tales I’ve been reading anyway.

I gave this book three stars, and had an absolutely fantastic time talking to Layla for today's episode of Not Now, I’m Reading!

I was provided an ARC of this book from the publisher in exchange for an honest review, which this most definitely was.

Where I've Been

 Hannah Gadsby's  Nanette  comedy special has been playing in my house nonstop since I was introduced to it a few days ago; a commentary on narrative, comedy, rage, and the queer experience, it was everything I didn't realize comedy could be, and I encourage you all to see it.

Hannah Gadsby's Nanette comedy special has been playing in my house nonstop since I was introduced to it a few days ago; a commentary on narrative, comedy, rage, and the queer experience, it was everything I didn't realize comedy could be, and I encourage you all to see it.

It's been a shit week, friends. Truly. And I know I'm not alone in thinking so.

Anyone paying more than a modicum of attention knows that America's soul is currently at stake, and I don't feel I'm being melodramatic in saying that. We are, at this very moment, ripping children out of the arms of mothers and facing the very real reality that women are on the knifes edge of statutorily losing their right to bodily autonomy. 

Things have not been bright in our country in a long time, but the sheer amount of despair I felt rippling through every one of my communities following the announcement that Justice Kennedy is retiring was, for the first time in a long time, enough to overwhelm.

It did overwhelm.

Admitting weakness takes strength, and this week broke me, friends. I am at the convergence of several different avenues of privilege, and so while my rights might not be as immediately under siege of those of women of color, members of my queer family who aren't so easily straight passing, and the disabled community at large, I am also a queer woman operating in a country where those two markers alone are enough to be deeply dangerous. History has outlined for us the descent into fascism before, and we are checking off boxes with faster and faster speed.

It's hard to write like this. I have lived my entire life as a deeply optimistic person, often to the point of naivety and poor emotional energy management. I am not alone in feeling feckless, and in having that feeling amplified over each new day. This week, I have donated to every place I can, ever dollar that I can, and still it does not feel like enough. Because it isn't enough, and most likely won't be until those in power no longer have to have the basics of humanity outlined to them on an hourly basis.

They don't care.

I care. Many, many of those closest to me care more deeply than words can put scope to. But there is a relentless exhaustion that, admittedly, I am lucky to have not previously encountered.

My complaints are not new, nor are they to be indulged. I try to fill my Twitter with those who have been here before, who have roots in organization and action and a legacy of hope in the face of seemingly insurmountable odds. Lately, even they have been tired. And so it is hard, but my hard is nothing in comparison to the hard of so many others.

What's the point here? Navel gazing, mostly, and a general off-loading of the rage and anxious energy that has filled me for weeks with so little other output. I started this post with a picture from Hannah Gadsby's Nanette because I found watching it to be one of the most deeply cathartic things I've seen, at a time when catharsis was needed so incredibly needed.

Because Hannah is fucking furious.

And so am I. 

Friday TEN 06.15.18

Did you miss me last Friday, friends? Because I sure did miss you. But, honestly, it's been a really rough couple of weeks, spoon-management wise, and the passing of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain wasn't helping anyone in my immediate social circle. 

But, the show must go on, and I'm incredibly lucky to have wonderful people in my life, supporting me in all sorts of wonderful ways. Including, apparently, sending me links they think I'll love enough to maybe include here! Because I was gone last week, I've managed to amass quite the little collection of things I enjoyed (or was alerted to) on the internet in the last two weeks. So this week's Friday Five is going to be a DOUBLE PACKED Friday Ten! 


One of the surprise-amazing things (to me, I'm sure they are not a surprise to a great many other people!) coming out of the most recent WisCon is the write-ups and analyses of different panels that happened over the course of the conference. For those like myself, who were unable to get to WisCon for a number of different reasons, they are truly amazing resources! 

Creativity and "Productivity": A Panel Report and Meditiation by KJ on Dreamwidth

When I saw the title of the panel KJ reviewed, I had to scoop my jaw up off the floor. Rarely has a panel so deeply spoke to a moment I was going through in my own life so clearly. KJ does an amazing job summarizing and synthesizing the information the panel covered, and if you're anything like me, the line "we're all striving to be Olympic level fans when we could be playing at the intramural level and still enjoying ourselves perfectly well" will hit incredibly close to home!  


WisCon 42 Panel Writeups: "Positive Representations of Masculinity" by Ira at Lady Business

WisCon 42 Panel Writeups: "Redemption And Revenge: Antiheroines And Villainesses Taking Control"

When Ira mentioned that they were going to maybe be doing panel write-ups of WisCon, I was delighted. When it turns out that they have plans to write-up all the panels they went to at WisCon, as well as they ones they were on, I almost DIED. I am always so fascinated to read anything Ira writes, especially with an analysis bent, because the way they write about their thought process, especially at something as chaotic as a convention panel, is something I deeply admire. Which is why you'll find two of their write ups in my link round-up this week! 


Burlesque and the Lens of Rewriting By Elsa Sjunneson-Henry at Uncanny Magazine

This absolutely amazing piece about disability, burlesque, and SFF's power to expand it's representative imaginative capacity sent chills through me. Elsa is a deafblind author who writes with fire about the way burlesque helped to expand her ability to reclaim and reimagine the disable characters she was seeing in fiction - and the lessons the speculate fiction community at large could learn from that. 

When women have been shamed by trolls for simply being women, when disabled women are shamed for having bodies like mine, it can be terrifying to share what I have done with mine. But I’m shedding my shame, because shame is worthless. Shame is dangerous, shame strips us of our power, and striptease gave me the power to retell stories.

Some Queer Short SFF - May 2018 by Charles Payseur at Quick Sip Reviews

Charles is the kind of reviewer I look at and just kind of mutter '...damn' quietly under my breath. He manages to review SO MUCH short fiction, with such clarity and insight, that I am truly left reeling. This particular list is one of a monthly feature he does on his Patreon, that is available for free. Y'all know how crazy I am for queer media, and having a lot of short queer content coalesces into one place is amazing.

And while this and many other posts are free, if you have a few dollars that you could toss to Charles, I highly recommend doing so! 


 

Curation Fandom v Transformative Fandom: A Twitter Thread by @rahaeli

This is the exact kind of fandom-related discourse I am here for, to be completely honest. After Star Wars Fan BoysTM got all up in their horrendous glee at chasing Kelly Marie Tran off Twitter, a great number of people took to lamenting on Twitter.

Denise replied in amazing fashion, laying out the difference between curation and transformation in fandom, and how the former can lead to gatekeeping, toxicity, and the kind of behavior we've seen over and over again from some of the most toxic corners of the major fandoms. 


Skin Matters by Troy L. Wiggins at Expanded Horizons

We're a little light on individual fiction in this round-up, which is less about the fiction and more about the amount of bonkers-good nonfiction I've run across recently. However, I read this short story a few minutes after posting the last Friday Five, which means that it's stuck with me in the last few weeks - no easy feat for a piece of short fiction!

The story of a mother and her android son, the story looks at motherhood, choice, the nature of having a heart, and what we face when society forces us to choose - and may not like the outcome of our choice. It's not a long story, but God damn it is an amazing one!


The Writer’s Page: The Un-Hero’s Journey by Kekla Magoon at The Hornbook

As a person who (very fortunately) gets access to a number of ARC copies of various things, I do my best to make sure I'm reading things approximately close to when it comes out.

That didn't happen with Kekla Magoon's new book, The Season of Styx Malone. It's not out until October, but I devoured it. When this piece by Kekla floated across my Twitter, I dropped what I was doing and read it immediately - with no regrets! The piece looks at heroism, narrative, and the messages we give kids about being the heroes of their lives (especially in a world where very few people may ever do A Big Thing, but that doesn't erase the validity of small heroism). It gave me a lot of feelings, and I think it'll probably do the same to you!


Gender Presentation and Ableness: a Twitter Thread by @TheBreeMae

Bree is one of my Twitter idols, and I don't say that flippantly or hyperbolically. An openly bisexual woman in a relationship with a man, there are a number of times weekly that Bree's feed brings me close to tears with love, validation, and the knowledge that my community is being seen.

This thread, on separating the way we present our gender from the physical tasks we're capable of (in this case, butch presentation paired with a physical inability to do a number of 'butch' tasks) was not only fascinating, but illuminating of yet another aspect of this messy, wiggly thing we call gender. 


Tracking Romance Reviews by Jen at Jen Reads Romance

Following in the vein of The Ripped Bodice's Diversity in Romance report, Jen has taken on a truly amazing project to look at the romance books being reviewed in eight major outlets, and how many of those titles reviewed are diverse. 

Not surprisingly, the numbers are Not Good. Jen outlines her methodology, as well as providing an entire second report about the role and importance of romance reviewers as gatekeepers, and the importance of her work shouldn't be ignored. There is a diversity problem along every rung of the publishing ladder, and making sure I'm doing what I can from my rung is the most important immediate task. Jen's numbers make that job easier.


I hope that's enough for y'all, friends! Because that's all I've got for this week. I'll be back next week with another Friday Five, my first *actual* book review, and - if I can manage to get my thoughts corralled into a line, maybe even an essay on just how much I still hate Izzie Stevens after all these years.

Friday Five 6.01.18

This one is coming in juuuust under the wire, friends. I feel, in so many ways, like this week has completely gotten away from me. It's mostly due to my temporary hermit status I had to impose in order to finish my mom's birthday present, but it's also because life truly seems to be picking up the pace right now. My grandmother, like so many others, always hammered home the 'god closes doors and open windows' adage, although this time when the door slammed, the floodgates opened! It's an adventure, and I'm loving it, but I'm also still dancing a bit in the effort to get my feet under me. Luckily, daylight hours are getting longer, and even in the most hectic weeks, I was able to find five amazing things for you to check out this weekend. 


F.O.F. was founded in 2015 by local queer kid Lane Gibson as a response to the lack of accessible and diverse clothing available to their community.

When I heard the ad spot that Fat Owl Fashion ran during a recent My Brother, My Brother, and Me episode, I knew immediately it was a company that I needed to check out. While there are no shortage of amazing small businesses making all sorts of sassy queer apparel, there is something about the low-key pride designs featured at F.O.F., combined with their focus on inclusion for the disabled community, that really caught my eye. I've purchased several things from them just in time for Pride (HAPPY PRIDE Y'ALL) and some things, really, are perfect any time!


The Life and Times of the Literary Agent Georges Borchardt at The Paris Review

When my good friend Charlotte linked to this interview earlier this week, I don't think she knew just how directly she was targeting my wheelhouse. As a Good Book Nerd, I am always interested in a person's movement through their literary life, but I have a special soft spot for the behind-the-scenes folks like agents, editors, and PR people who work for and alongside some of the names we come to know best.

This profile not only scratched all of those itches to a "T", but had the added bonus of being an absolutely beautiful and fascinating sketch of a life lived in books among the trials of war, persecution, and the Holocaust. Fittingly, if any of those subjects are triggering to you, know that they are briefly touched on, but only briefly, and the humble yet honest answers Borchardt provides as to his path to success are well worth the read.


AAR's Top 100 Romances List: Diving Into the Data at ReaderWriterVille

A few...months (?) ago - because what is time in 2018 - the first AAR poll for the 2018 Top 100 Romances list hit Twitter and it was...not great. Authors of color, specifically black authors, were largely ignored and left off the list. When this was pointed out, readers were assured that this list was just the first step of many, and that by the time the list came out, the problem would be rectified. 

And call me cynical, but when the AAR list actually dropped this week, I was frustratingly unsuprised to see that, in fact, it hadn't really been fixed. Which is why I'm linking to this post, as opposed to the actual list - I think it's far more helpful as a reflection tool. Sunita does a fantastic job of looking at the numbers from the list through a variety of different lenses, and allows you to draw your own conclusions accordingly.

For me, the bottom line is that I just can't bring myself to trust a list about romance novels that only includes one black author, Alyssa Cole. And that's no shame to Cole, whom I adore, but if you can't at least include Beverly Jenkins and Brenda Jackson to that still-too-small number, I find your list inherently dubious. 


"The Boy and the Bell" by Heidi Heilig at The Hanging Garden

I live my life in a perpetual state of catching up, with short fiction moreso than almost anything else! Which is why I'm only just now getting to this March story published by Heilig, and oh my sweet friends am I glad to have put these words into my eyeballs.

Normally, I am the first person to tell you that I am over the vampire narrative, and truth be told was never much here for it to begin with. That is, until you combine vampire myths with early medical history and a trans narrator, which will apparently turn my interest to eleven! Atmospheric and twisty, this story packs a punch into it's shorter length, and with a beautiful pacing and unfolding of details, Heilig has hit the highest bar of short story writing - leaving the readers desperately wanting more. 


 

A Change in Energy by kvikindi at AO3

This rec first popped up in the absolutely must-follow newsletter The Rec Center, but as always seems to be the case, it flitted on by until dear Jenny DM'd me to call it to my attention - and to reassure me that it's 450K length was the slow burn angst-fest that I'm always looking for in my reading life. 

AND OH MY GOODNESS PALS SHE WAS ABSOLUTELY CORRECT.

Don't watch Stargate? That's fine! The author put together this incredibly hand primer, but even if you possess no desire to know about Stargate, this fic stands on it's own about a man falling in love with a man who might also be merging with a ship's AI. I'm only about 100K in, because I'm forcing myself to parcel it out, but y'all. Y'all. It is so absolutely worth every lingering minute. 


There it is, friends! I feel like I've gotten to spend the last little bit at rest in the eye of the hurricane (yes, it's fine, I too am singing the Hamilton song) and now it's back unto the breech. But as the waves keep coming, at least the summer sun is bright! Take care until next week (when who knows - maybe I'll even manage to get an actual review up!)

Friday Five 5.25.18

It's been a whirlwind of a week, friends, but when is that ever not the case?! Between a couple of closed school days, a handful of scheduling tornadoes, and the ever-pressing need to mow the lawn because - that's right! - summer is here at last, I almost didn't manage to track down five for this week's Friday Five. Luckily, the internet never fails to provide, and so here are a handful of the super interesting things I ran across on the internet this week!


"Sorry, haters: Almost no one in ‘Star Wars’ is canonically straight" by Gavia Baker-Whitelaw at The Daily Dot

Gavia is always one of my go-to reads when it comes to intelligent, insightful critiques and commentaries on a wide breadth of the pop culture landscape. Her analysis of the Star Wars canon (and what is canon, anyway?!) in light of the recent meta-revelation that Lando Calrissian, noted space lothario, is indeed pansexual. Now, I will say that my bullshit meter goes off at top volume when you're queer characters are created by external commentary and not in the text itself, but do yourself a favor - go read Gavia's piece. She breaks it down so much better than I ever could.


"Neil Gorsuch Just Demolished Labor Rights" by Mark Joseph Stern at Slate

 It will come as no shock to people that I know me that I am a bit of a policy wonk, a political science dork. Which as made the last eighteen months or so not only a nightmare in terms of resisting by existing, but also in regards to watching some of what are, in my mind, the tent poles to successful American democracy, erode from under us. In this specific case, as the rest of the world imploded, a 5-4 decision from the Supreme Court reversed an earlier judgement and allows employers to keep employees from suing under collective action for things like wage theft.

Justice Ginsberg (FOREVER FAVORITE) wrote a scathing and passionate dissent of the act, which further allows companies to operate free of consequence with regards to their employee's ability to act collectively. 

I will hate the Republican party forever for a lot of reasons. Stealing this Supreme Court seat is just the tip of the iceberg.


"#TraLaFrankenstein Readalong" by the Demographically Similar Jennys at Reading the End

It is no secret that I LOVE THE JENNYS! I also love the story behind the creation of one of science fiction's first texts - written by a teenage girl, no less! While I didn't have a ton of luck with the actual text of Frankenstein when I read it years ago, I'm having a much better time following along with these hilarious posts. The readalong is only running through the end of May, but there's a giveaway, and I think these posts make a perfect companion to Frankenstein whenever you manage to get to it.



 

"Lave Cake for the Apocalypse" by Wendy Nikel at Nature.com

I will admit, the first time I saw the domain for this story, I was convinced that I'd clicked on the wrong link somehow - I was completely ignorant to the fact that Nature posts EcoSFF fiction on their site as well!

After finding a weathered Earthen recipe card for lava cake, a far-future, space-dwelling human colonist returns to Earth to track down the ingredients needed to make the cake the old-fashioned way. What follows is a world built in the space between the words, a hinted-at global meltdown in the background of one person's quest to bring happiness to another in even the smallest ways.


And there you have it, pals! Five great reads to tide you over on this wonderful Memorial Day weekend. May your mornings be sleep-filled, your coffee be hot, and your books be absolutely amazing!