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What did you just finish?
The Underground Railroad by Colson Whitehead. Cora is a slave on a cotton plantation in Georgia, when Caesar, a newly bought field-hand, tells her that he has a connection to the Underground Railroad and wants her to run away with him. Cora thinks this is because her mother (who ran away years ago, abandoning Cora as a child, who still resents her for it) is the only slave from this particular plantation to never be caught, and Cora therefore might be good luck. Scorning such superstition, she tells him no, only to change her mind when the plantation comes into the hands of new, unusually sadistic owner.

However, this book is more magic realism than history, and it turns out that the Underground Railroad is literally an underground railroad: stations buried beneath houses or barns, tracks in tunnels running beneath mountains, steam engines manned by conductors. And it takes its passengers to places that never existed, although the references to real moments in American history are obvious. At one point, Cora reads Gulliver's Travels, and that's the clear inspiration for this book: it's a travelogue of fantasy lands that are not nearly as fantastic as one might wish. The Underground Railroad alludes to the Tuskegee syphilis experiment, eugenic sterilization laws, lynching, Harriet Ann Jacobs's time hidden in an attic, Harriet Tubman's head injury, the Back to Africa movement (the 18th and 19th century idea concerned with expelling all blacks, not the more recent one about discovering your roots), and probably a lot more ideas that I don't know enough history to catch. Ultimately Cora is caught up in the debate of how to make progress, the same now as it has always been: respectable, incremental progress, focusing on 'the talented tenth'? Or aggressive, risky radicalism?

This is a brutal, brutal book – violent and terrifying without the least speck of hope. Cora survives her travels, but it's an arduous, grinding endurance, not a joyous victory. One might say all books about slavery, by their very nature, are brutal, but let me tell you: I have read a lot of books on this topic, and very few managed to hit murder, child rape, and attempted suicide by page two, only to proceed downward from there.

Which is not to say that I didn't like it! I did, very much; I just want people to know what they're getting into if they chose to read this. But if that doesn't put you off, it's an amazing book: beautifully written, with wonderful, engaging characters, fascinating worldbuilding, and a compelling quality that makes it hard to put down. Absolutely recommended.
I read this as an ARC via NetGalley.

Duke of Midnight by Elizabeth Hoyt. Okay, you guys, there is one reason and one reason only why I needed to read this book: Regency Batman. (Okay, technically it's Georgian, not Regency, but the only effect that seems to have on the plot is it gives the author more interesting fashion to describe.)

Maximus Batten, Duke of Wakefield, witnessed the brutal murder of his parents as a young child. After years of training in secret, he now spends every night hunting the streets of London's slums in disguise, fighting against the gin trade that he blames for his parents' deaths and hunting for the specific highwayman that killed them. He has a butler who's in on his secret and helps him train and do research. He has a Commissioner Gordon, in the form of the guy officially in charge of cleaning up the illegal gin trade. He even has a Batcave! (It's an old wine cellar that he uses to keep up on his exercising and to sneak in and out of his house, but come on, it's a Batcave.)

So clearly all of this is amazing. But is the book actually worth reading? Yes! It's not the best historical romance I've ever read – Maximus is way too close to an alphahole for my personal taste – but I very much enjoyed myself.

The heroine is Artemis, the poor cousin and current lady's companion to Penelope, a beautiful heiress who is determined to marry Maximus herself. Artemis, though forced by her position to maintain a demure facade, is a snarky tomboy who is mostly concerned with her twin brother Apollo (I KNOW ARTEMIS AND APOLLO WTF), who was accused of murder years ago and has been forcibly imprisoned in Bedlam ever since. When Artemis accidentally figures out that Maximus is the Ghost of St Giles Batman, she blackmails him into helping Maximus.

I did not approve of the first kissing scene including Maximus calling her a "little bitch", but once you get past that, the sex scenes were very hot and well-written. I particularly enjoyed that they carried out an affair for quite a while despite believing that they would never be able to marry, since Maximus was still officially courting Penelope. Characters sleeping together while trying to hide their true love? A+++ I LOVE THIS TROPE. I also really liked that a major part of the plot involved the triangle between Penelope, Maximus, and Artemis, but "the other woman" wasn't demonized or blamed. In general, the book had a nice diversity of female friendships. On the other hand, the ending is a bit too clearly part of a series, as it just drops several plot lines without resolution: what happens to Penelope and the Duke of Scarborough? Who did murder Apollo's friends? How will he stay out of Bedlam? I need to know.

Overall, I had a few problems and it's a bit cheesy, but it was fun, entertaining book. Definitely a nice way to spend a rainy afternoon.

What are you currently reading?
Well, I started Before We Visit the Goddess by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, a novel off of NetGalley, but then I decided that I needed something cheerier to read and have temporarily detoured into Howl's Moving Castle by Diana Wynne Jones, which I've somehow never read before. They're both great so far!

Date: 2016-05-19 11:52 am (UTC)
From: [identity profile] just-ann-now.livejournal.com
Howl's Moving Castle yay! Come back after and tell us all the ways in which Howl is Alec Campion!

Date: 2016-05-20 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
It was so good!

Date: 2016-05-19 05:58 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] rachel2205.livejournal.com
The Underground Railroad sounds amazing but too bleak for my brain atm! May add to my good reads want to read list though!

Date: 2016-05-20 08:04 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
It's not out officially until September, so you have time to warm up to it, haha! But yeah, I can very much understand why someone might want to pass on it.

Date: 2016-05-20 09:50 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dhampyresa.livejournal.com
Georgian (time period) Batman, you say? I could be down for that.

Date: 2016-05-24 05:56 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] wordsofastory.livejournal.com
Yup! I don't know if you enjoy romance novels much – it is, otherwise, very much a typical genre romance – but it is lots of fun.

Date: 2016-05-27 10:43 pm (UTC)
From: [identity profile] dhampyresa.livejournal.com
Yeah, I'm not big on romance qua romance.


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