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.

Review: A Taste of Honey, Rose Lerner

Note: I received a review copy of A Taste of Honey from the author. This did not influence the contents of my review.

If you’ve ever asked me for feminist romance novel recommendations, I’ve probably enthusiastically pushed Rose Lerner on you. Consider this me doing so again. A Taste of Honey is the latest installment in her Lively St. Lemeston series, which focuses on middle and lower-class folks in a small British town in Regency England. As with most romance series, you don’t need to have read the others to enjoy this one. Be prepared now for me to overuse the words delightful and charming, and if you notice a sentence in which I use neither one, just assume they were implied.

A Taste of Honey

Our protagonists are Robert Moon, the proprietor of a Lively St. Lemeston confectionery perpetually on the edge of financial ruin, and his shop-girl, Betsy Piper. She has pined after him for years, but he won’t make a move; he is waiting to achieve financial security before asking her to marry him, because he doesn’t want to drag a wife into bankruptcy with him. When the confectionery receives a massive order — twenty-five pounds — it could be the chance they’ve both been waiting for. A week-long frenzy of baking and banging ensues.

I mean: WHAT A DELIGHT. Protagonists managing a shared project is one of my favorite things, and Rose Lerner brings her customary acuity to Robert and Betsy, both of whom manage well enough when they’re negotiating sex with each other, but who also both need to learn a few things about recognizing and asking for what they want emotionally. Their shared project is the exactly-correct level of stressful, as Mrs. Lovejoy is rude to Betsy, flirtatious with Robert, and constantly swinging by unexpectedly to make expensive last-minute changes to her order.

Also featured: Extravagant, mouth-watering descriptions of yummy Regency-era desserts, which given Rose Lerner’s attention to detail I feel confident are period-accurate.

Also also featured: Butt stuff. Which is CRAZY because the day before I read A Taste of Honey, I was talking to my friend Ira about how M/F romance novels almost never have butt stuff.

And I cannot emphasize enough how sweet and dear this book is. Viz:

“It’s only that you’ll have to show me what to do.” His ears were hot. “You, erm–you might not be a virgin, but I be.” He’d been busy. And shy.

“Oh.”

Was it a disappointed ‘oh’? “But I learn quick,” he added hastily. “It can’t be much trickier than a good pie crust.”

I MEAN COME ON.

A Taste of Honey is a delectable treat that will please the palates of the romance expert and the romance newbie alike. You should rush right out and gobble it up as soon as possible. (Full disclosure, I was going to say the romance gourmet but I couldn’t think of a parallel word that meant newbie but with food. I regret nothing.)

Blood Magic and Apocalypses: A Romance Novels Round-Up

Welp, here it is somehow Friday already, and I do not feel that I have accomplished anything this week. Anyone have good weekend plans? Mine focus heavily on hibernation. In the meantime, here are some romance novels I’ve been reading lately.

Rag and Bone, KJ Charles

(I received a copy of this book from the publisher for review consideration.)

KJ Charles writes about half-and-half straight historical romance novels and creepy magic creepiness romance novels, and I would be hard-pressed to say which genre I prefer. Rag and Bone is in the latter category, a companion novel to her “Charm of Magpies” series. Crispin was raised by a warlock and got into bad habits, but now he has been found by good magic-users, who are trying to teach him to do magic that doesn’t skip on the raggedy edge of necromancy. Unfortunately for him, and for his (secret, cause it’s olden times) lover, a dustman called Ned, there is an old, malevolent force stalking the streets of London.

Rag and Bone is hella creepy — as are all the books in this series: come for the sexytimes, stay for the nightmare-inducing British witchcraft.1 In his warlock days, Crispin cut off a piece of his finger and used the bone to make a pen that writes in his blood and serves as a conduit for his magic. There’s unexplained spontaneous human combustion. There’s the sound of singing, and nobody to do the singing. As always in Charles’s books, you get halfway through the book and can’t imagine how things are going to work out for her characters; but then, of course, they do. This is romance! So knowing that, it’s just fun to watch Charles get her characters into increasingly horrific scrapes, trusting that she’ll also be able to get them back out.

Mixed Signals, Alyssa Cole

The third in Alyssa Cole’s Off the Grid series, Mixed Signals is best read after the first two — but you should read the first two!2 The basic premise of the series is that solar flares (I think? I’m fuzzy on the science) have put out the lights across America. The chaos is about what you’d expect, and the survivors of the immediate aftermath must find a way to make their lives in an irretrievably altered society. Since this is a combination of two things I love — romance novels and process dystopias — I am obviously in for this.

By the start of Mixed Signals, it is years on from the initial collapse of society, and the country is rebuilding. Maggie Seong was only a kid when the lights went out, and now that she’s heading off to college, there’s been enough progress to where there are, you know, colleges to go to. As Maggie struggles to work out what she wants, her campus faces attacks from Luddite groups who want to undo the progress that everyone has worked so hard to achieve. The central romance (of the friends-to-lovers type) is a little thin, actually, but I didn’t mind because Cole’s worldbuilding is so much fun. I love this series, and I hope Cole keeps thinking of new stories for this world she’s created.

Once upon a Marquess, Courtney Milan

I…didn’t really care for this one. Courtney Milan was one of my first introductions into romance novels, way back in 2012/2013 sort of time, and it was sort of a revelation to me that romance novels could be funny and feminist and great. But I haven’t loved her most recent historicals (her book Trade Me was quite good! with all the negotiating of power dynamics!), and Once upon a Marquess was heavy-handed in the way that’s been frustrating me with Milan lately. Sigh!

It’s particularly sad because Once upon a Marquess is the first in a new series, the kind where each family member gets a story, and I love those. I’ll probably read at least one more in the Worth series before giving up, though.

Listen to the Moon, Rose Lerner

If you have talked to me about romance novels in the last recently, you’ll probably have heard me say, “ROSE LERNER SHOULD BE MORE FAMOUS.” Listen to the Moon is more grist for that opinion mill. The historical world her characters inhabit feels completely lived in, and the obstacles that stand between her protagonists and their happy ending are never contrived.

Listen to the Moon is a particularly fun book because it’s that rarest of beasts, a historical romance between two working-class people. John Toogood is a gentleman’s gentleman who has lost his position through no fault of his own, while Sukey is a maid-of-all-work who drives John mad by settling for good-enough (rather than perfection). Rose Lerner has obviously done extensive research into the ins and outs of being a house servant in the 1800s. This book is a treat on every level.

What about y’all? Read any good romance lately? I need some recommendations for upcoming airplane travel!

  1. Or the other way around! I don’t know your life.
  2. Confession, I cheated and skipped the second one because it was checked out at my library. I don’t recommend this. I followed the plot of Mixed Signals just fine, but I wished I hadn’t missed out on whatever went on in Signal Boost.