Review: Hamilton’s Battalion

If you follow me on Twitter, you may already have seen me shrieking about Hamilton’s Battalion, a collection of novellas by three of my favorite romance authors. But I’d like now to review it in a more measured fashion, after some days with the text and a mature1 consideration of its merits.

Hamilton's Battalion

Ha! You thought I was going to put an all-capsy shrieky paragraph down here after the cover, didn’t you? You thought all that maTOOR business was setting up a joke, but it wasn’t. That’s just how I say mature, which shows that I am a sophisticate.

The first thing that struck me about Hamilton, the very first time I heard it on NPR First Listen,2, was its fundamental hopefulness about the American experiment. It used a story about America’s past to propose a version of America’s future that felt optimistic and worthwhile and attainable.3 Hamilton’s Battalion is a worthy successor to the musical that inspired it, espousing hope in the project of nation-building without ignoring the failures that inevitably accompany that project. It’s also a darn good on-ramp to the genre for Hamilton fans who are romance newbies.

Let’s get into the novellas!

Second Chance at Love: “Promised Land,” by Rose Lerner

Rachel fled her wifely duties years ago and now fights the British in the disguise of a man; but when her husband is captured as a spy and brought into her camp, she has to face the life she left behind.

Rose Lerner packs a ton into this short romance: Rachel and Nathan have much to blame each other for, and they spend a lot of the story properly talking about where they went wrong with each other, and why. When they eventually reunite, it’s with a new understanding and acceptance of their differences — which is what Rose Lerner excels at, and why she’s one of my faves.

“Promised Land” also talks about religion in this way that I rarely see in fiction. Rachel and Nathan are both Jewish, but Rachel has fallen away from some kinds of religious observance since she left home — by necessity and by desire. As the book goes on, she and Nathan talk about the different practices of faith, and why they matter, and what they want for themselves as Jewish Americans. I cried a lil bit. Don’t judge me.

Road Trip: “The Pursuit of…”, by Courtney Milan

This one’s about a free black soldier who stumbles upon a British officer just as the war is coming to an end. John and Henry wind up traveling together in part because Henry can’t think of anything else to do with himself — he’s deserted his post and would face only disgrace if he went back to his family.

Eh, this was my least favorite of the bunch. I loved the conversations John and Henry had about worth and freedom and espoused vs practiced American values. I just didn’t care for Henry. He’s that chatty nonsense-talking brand of Milan hero that’s never done it for me in her past books, and didn’t do it for me here. But I understand from other reviews that I am in a heavy minority. “The Pursuit of” has a road trip and much discussion of values, and if you like those things you’ll probably like it. I have failed this city.

Chaos Muppet & Order Muppet: “That Could Be Enough,” Alyssa Cole

After years as Eliza Hamilton’s servant, Mercy has seen enough of love to know that she doesn’t want anything to do with it. But she begins to reconsider when her household is visited by a confident, vivacious dressmaker determined to draw Mercy out from the limitations she’s imposed on herself.

I don’t know if unified Muppet theory is the best way to describe this story, actually! What I like about it is similar to what I like about the Jane Eyre / Rochester romance, i.e., the inherent funniness of someone friendly and verbal and external hooking onto someone who holds everything very close to their chest, and then being relentlessly nuts about them, no matter how confusing the unfriendly one finds this. That’s this novella. As a not-un-walls-having person myself, I found it really poignant to watch Mercy discover that all the acceptance she’s been too frightened to ask for was at her fingertips all along. And I loved how reluctantly drawn she is to Andromeda from the first minute they meet. It’s a lovely story with (of course!) a happy ending.

Hamilton’s Battalion is poignant and clear-sighted, but somehow joyous too; a wonderful collection of stories about the unquashed and unquashable potential of our country and its people. (And love, obviously.)

  1. Pronounced maTOOR, naturally
  2. This happened the same day we found out David Cameron fucked a pig, so a p. good day all told.
  3. I maintain that Hamilton, like many historical fictions, is about our time and not its. That doesn’t solve the problem of its ignoring the existence of indigenous peoples who were violently displaced in the name of the American experiment.

Hockey, House Parties, and Taxidermy: A Romance Novels Round-Up

The time has come, the walrus said, for another romance novels round-up! I know you’ve been yearning for it. This election season was difficult, the results were worse, and these last few months more than ever I’ve needed cuddly tropey fluff to get me through.

Hard Knocks

Ruby Lang is a new-to-me author I discovered through the wonderful Romance Novels for Feminists (which has never yet steered me wrong), and I received Hard Knocks for review consideration from the publisher. Hard Knocks is about a hockey player nearing the end of his career (Adam) and a neurologist (Helen) who thinks he’s cute when he brings his friend in for a concussion check-up but does not think much of all the brain damage sports can wreak upon their players.

Oh how I love discovering a new romance author whose books are just right for me. Hard Knocks is witty and charming, with banter between the leads that is also witty and charming (in the way that so many romance novels try and fail to have their banter be, i.e., effortlessly), and I’m delighted that there’s another book in the series for me to read.1 Things I particularly loved include how angry Helen is (I love angry heroines); the fact that nobody gives a crap that she sleeps with Adam casually; frank discussion of finances (so rare); and how angry Helen is.

Did I say one of those twice? I really love angry heroines. I can already tell that Ruby Lang’s going to be one of my go-to romance authors–very much recommended!

Do You Want to Start a Scandal, Tessa Dare
Do You Want to Start a Scandal, Tessa Dare

Charlotte Highwood creeps into the library to let Lord Granville know that she absolutely does not intend to let her mother entrap them into marrying — and kind of gets entrapped into marrying him. She’s determined to find them both a way out of it. He’s a spy. Everyone’s stuck at this manor house for one of those house parties where people are so nosy and everyone is maybe creeping away to do assignations.

Frankly, this is a delight from cover to cover. I love and revel in angsty romances (cf. my longtime love for Meredith Duran), but it was a refreshing treat to encounter a heroine as cheerful and indomitable as Charlotte. She refuses to allow herself to be caught up in anything like a Big Misunderstanding and perpetually cuts through the romance novel trope bullshit to say and do exactly what she means.

Hold Me

Courtney Milan was one of the first — maybe the first? — romance authors I tried when I decided to give romance novels another chance; and I’ve been a fan ever since. Her latest historicals have felt a trifle pat, so I’ve been on a break from them, but her new contemporary series — of which Hold Me is the second — has been excellent so far. In addition to thoughtfully exploring issues I care about (poverty, work-life balance, complicated parental relationships, independence v. intimacy), they lay out sincere emotional problems and show us how the characters navigate those issues.

Maria Lopez runs a popular blog where she imagines end-of-the-world scenarios in great detail. She has an ongoing semi-flirtation with one of her regular commenters, whom she called Actual Physicist and who calls her Em. When she goes to deliver a message to one of her brother’s friends (a scientist), the friend, Jay, is horribly rude to her, making immediate assumptions about her intelligence based on her appearance (girly! heels!), and she takes an immediate dislike to him. Well guess what y’all. Guess what turns out to be the case.

I liked this book a hell of a lot. Maria’s trans, and I love that it isn’t an issue in her relationship to Jay. I love that we see her as part of a group of queer friends, and that part of her emotional arc involves speaking honestly with her friend and former roommate Angela (who’s getting her own book, yay!) — in other words, that overcoming her feelings problems doesn’t revolve solely around Jay. I love You’ve Got Mail-y premises like this one, and Hold Me is a hugely satisfying book along those lines.

KJ Charles has a new series called Sins of the City that’s inspired by Wilkie Collins’s fiction, and frankly that’s all the information I needed to get excited about An Unseen Attraction. (Actually all I needed was KJ Charles’s name, but this Wilkie Collins thing didn’t hurt.) I received An Unseen Attraction from the publisher for review consideration, via NetGalley.

Clem manages a lodging house where everything is in perfect order, apart from the one tenant Clem’s noble half-brother won’t ever let him evict. When that tenant turns up brutally murdered, Clem’s tidy world is turned upside down — and so is the life of another of his tenants, the sexy taxidermist Rowley Green.

So much Wilkie Collins in this book, y’all. I loved it. Dark secrets to be uncovered, the promise of more scandal to come in subsequent books, it’s all completely up my alley. Better yet, Charles does a wonderful job of showing how Clem and Rowley learn to be ever-better friends and lovers to each other, treading gently around insecurities but setting boundaries where necessary. Clem is on the spectrum and Rowley comes from an abusive home, and they make mistakes with each other. The tension doesn’t arise so much from a Big Misunderstanding as from the clashes that happen around conflicting motives, loyalties, and ways of being a person. Charles is terrific at depicting Clem and Rowley’s attempts to navigate all of this, and it makes their happy ending all the more satisfying.

Basically, if the idea of a story about love, taxidermy, and murder most foul appeals to you, I’d recommend you run straight out and preorder An Unseen Attraction. It comes out on 21 February and is well worth your time.

What romance novels have you been enjoying lately, friends? I always need more recs!

  1. It’s about a guy with allergies who falls in love with his allergist. I mean, come on. That could not be more charming.

Roller Derby, World of Warcraft, and (ugh) Scots

It’s time for another romance novels round-up! I recently did an awesome interview with a grad student who’s studying romance novels and feminism, and it reminded me that while I still read romance novels, I haven’t talked about them in quite some time. But in fact, I have been reading some incredibly adorable romance novels that you should know about, so let’s get into it.

First up: Roller Girl, by Vanessa North. Tina Durham is a recently divorced former sportsing champion1 who gets a crush on her new plumber, Joe (short for Joanne). Through Joe, she gets involved in a local roller derby team, and they fall in lurv.

Roller Girl

F/F romance novels do not get nearly the love and attention of their het and M/M counterparts, and it’s a damn shame. Roller Girl was the sweetest romance novel I’ve read in a while (except see also Looking for Group, below), and it was wonderful to see a trans protagonist who’s already gone through her transition and is trying to figure out life on the other side; who receives courtesy and not persecution by the people she’s out to; and who gets a happy ending with a super-nice romantic partner. And she gets to be awesome at roller derby at the same time!

If you have other roller derby romance novels to recommend, please do so in the comments. I have been starry-eyed over roller derby (concept of; I do not want to play it; I am weak and unsportsy) ever since the excellent Ellen Page movie Whip It.

Next up: Alexis Hall’s latest, Looking for Group. This one’s about a university student named Drew who develops a crush on a girl (he thinks) in his World of Warcraft guild. (It’s not called World of Warcraft in the book, but I am very clever and figured out that it’s basically World of Warcraft.) When Solace turns out to be a guy called Kit, Drew has to sort out his feelings about Kit, his own apparent bisexuality, and his relationship to the world of gaming.

Looking for Group

Alexis Hall is great at making me feel feelings using only his words — the emotional truthfulness of his romance novels is always what keeps me coming back. Looking for Group was no exception. It starts with, and continues to include, some very dense passages where the characters are playing Pretend World of Warcraft — I have never played a video game a day in my life (except, like, Mario Kart or Guitar Hero very occasionally, both of which I’m terrible at), so this was a hurdle I had to clear to get to the meat of the book.

But! If you can hang in there (and consult the gaming vocab glossary at the back of the book), it’s well worth it in the end. Hall deals with Drew’s college-student-ness so incredibly well — the way each half of a friendship can perceive each other and the friendship in unrecognizably different ways; that thing where you will lounge around with a group of people for hours/days trying to figure out what the next activity of the friend group will be; the difficulty of incorporating a new partner into an established friend situation without friction. It’s a genuine dear of a book.

Okay, on to the Scots! I am sorry that I said “ugh” in the post title. I am not mad at real-life Scots. It’s Scottish romances I can’t abide, which is why it took me this long to read the newest Sarah MacLean book, even though she’s one of my fave romance writers. Reluctant Duke Warnick comes to London under duress, having discovered that in addition to all his holdings, he’s inherited a ward named Lily — who appears to have been Ruined and now requires Saving. He’s determined to get her respectably married, guess what they fall in love, not a spoiler, you already know what romance novels are.

A Scot in the Dark

Luckily for me,2 the Scot isn’t all that Scottish. I had to skip past some moments where his heart and dick swelled because his lass was wearing his tartan (vom), but apart from that it was mostly okay. Per usual, Sarah MacLean is funny and feminist, and it’s always fun watching her characters unravel their emotional dilemmas.

(Her sex scenes can get a teensy bit schmoopy, if that’s a thing that bothers you. I skipped some bits. Tartan, and such.)

What about you, my loves? Read any good romance novels lately? I am always open to recommendations!

  1. Full disclosure, I do not understand what the sport is that she used to do professionally. Something with water? Huh huh watersports oh God this footnote has gone downhill very rapidly, I apologize to everyone.
  2. I have an extreme aversive reaction to even the smallest amount of Scottish accent depicted textually.