books

Alexis Hall

Books

Romance

Spires: Glitterland (2018), Waiting for the Flood (2018), For Real (2018)

London Calling: Boyfriend Material (2020), Husband Material (2022)

Winner Bakes All: Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (2021)

Fantasy

Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator: Iron & Velvet (2013/2019)

Prosperity: Prosperity (2018), Liberty & Other Stories (2018)

Something Fabulous: Something Fabulous (2022)

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019)

Mystery

Murder Most Actual (2021)

 

Spires

 

Glitterland (2018)

GlitterlandI kept reading the synopsis of this story and thinking, “I don’t know if this is my kind of story.” But I utterly adored Boyfriend Material as well as Waiting for the Flood, so I decided to try it.

It opens with a the aftermath of a one-night-stand and the main character, Ash, having a panic attack.

And a blow up with one of his best friends–and ex-boyfriend.

“God,” I said, petulant as a child, “if I’m such a horrendous waste of your time, why do you bother?”

Once upon a time he might have said: Because I love you.

Once upon a time he might have said: Because I care about you.

“Because I feel guilty all the fucking time,” he snapped. “And because the last time I didn’t bother, you tried to kill yourself.”

The words echoed through my head. I tugged at my cuffs, pulling them down until they hung over the heels of my hand. One of the unadvertised advantages of bespoke tailoring. All my shirts were cut this way.

So Ash is a mess. He’s trying–sort of–but he’s a mess.

I’d fuck up and let them down, they’d feel sad, I’d feel sad, they’d feel sad for making me feel sad, and so on, and so on, and so on. As if I didn’t bear enough frustration and regret on my own account, without also feeling guilty for hurting the people who loved me.

That hit close to home.

One of the things I especially loved is that nothing was as clear cut and easy as it seemed. Ash’s memory is a mess from his treatments, and he’s terrified of going back over the edge.

I wouldn’t have called myself a superstitious man, but when it came to the intricacies of my biochemistry, the complexities of my illness, I was as helpless as a frightened child who prayed to a god called science.

That’s something else I have lived. And it sucks.

But it’s not all angst. There are lovely funny bits.

“Greg and Laura are getting divorced so they both decided not to come in case they met without a lawyer present. Although since Max knows about eighty lawyers, I don’t know what they were worried about.”

Which is good because they helped offset the bits that made me cry.

The other thing I adored is the language. I think I want to hear the audio version, because I am not up on my British accents, and although he did an excellent job writing how much of an accent Darian has, I still kinda wanna hear it.

Again, lovely. A bit more angsty than I was prepared for (because it’s 2020, so it’s all fluff all the time) but the funny bits worked well to offset the hard parts.

Rating: 8.5/10

Waiting for the Flood (2018)

Waiting for the FloodThe last book I finished wasn’t at all for me.

This book was perfect for me.

The waters are rising, and Edwin Tully worries more about his elderly neighbor than his own home–the home he bought with his ex. The home he thought was going to be their forever.

You don’t really fall in love with a house. You fall in love with the life you could have in it.

Each chapter opens with a description of one room of the house, and what the room meant to Edwin when he and Marius bought the house.

First, his neighbor is wonderful.

She sighed. “All right, all right, I take your point. But if I end up having to eat my own arm like a coyote, I’m suing.”

But now I carefully focused on Mrs. P. My friend. I thought of tea and biscuits and Sunday afternoons— not a stranger whose ease and kindness was its own threat— and pulled out my words. Slowly, knowing that with Mrs, P. they would be safe.

“Last time I checked,” I said, “you have enough Hobnobs in there to last a nuclear winter.”

“A woman cannot live by Hobnobs alone.”

“No, you need—” custard creams “— Jammie Dodgers too.”

She nodded. “And protein.”

The story itself is just lovely.

This is the story of my life: standing on the edges of things and worrying, when I’m supposed to just walk through them.

We see Edwin through his actions and his thoughts–and the words he can’t get out.

“Oh yes. I’m a—” I wanted to say badass, but I didn’t trust myself with a b and a d so close to each other, “— maverick. Mixing it up. Is totally what I do.”

This is a novella, so in some ways the story is spare, getting to the ending in just over 100 words. But it’s also perfect, focusing on the things you need, letting you fill in the gaps of Edwin and his life.

It’s just lovely and sweet and there is no boinking.

Rating: 8/10

Reread: March 2021 | Rating: 9.5/10

Reread: April 2022 | Rating: 9/10

Audio Edition (2016) narrated by Alexander Doddy

This is one of my favorite Alexis Hall stories. I primarily listen to Fantasy and Mystery, but thought I’d see how I felt about this.

I still love the story, but I think romance isn’t a genre that is particularly going to work for me in audio.

And, of course, adventure gets me too. Not quite in the same way as ravish, but it gets me. It makes me fizz a little. I don’t know how or even when Mrs. P. worked it out, but she’s been exploiting it ever since. Weeding her lawn is an adventure. Replacing a lightbulb is an adventure. Taking her bin out is an adventure. Or perhaps it’s just easier for both of us than admitting she struggles to do these things herself.

This is still one of my favorite novellas, and I’m a bit said the audio doesn’t work for me, but that’s ok.

Publisher: Riptide Publishing

Rating: 7/10

For Real (2018)

For RealThis was really really not my thing.

Yet I couldn’t stop reading.

Laurence Dalziel has grown weary of the local BDSM scene. It gives him some of what he needs–but so much else of what he wants is nowhere to be found. So it is as much a shock to him as to everyone else when he takes a young man home–a small, slight young man half his age, yet somehow completely the dominant Laurie needs.

So what kept me reading? First, I really liked Toby and wanted to discover more about him.

(MYy granddad’s a pretty biased man. He thinks I’m this astonishing, talented, wonderful person, in spite of all available evidence to the contrary. But that’s sort of what love is, I guess. A perpetual state of semideranged partiality.

But also because I really don’t get the dom/sub thing, and it was kinda of fascinating to read about. Especially how it could in some ways be separated from sex, but also how for at least the two characters in the book, it was inseparable from intimacy.

So: not for me, but I am glad I read it.

Rating: 7/10

 

London Calling

 

Boyfriend Material (2020)

Boyfriend MaterialThis story was an utter delight.

I started it mid afternoon, and pretty much didn’t set it down until I’d finished it–past my bedtime.

Luc O’Donnell is a mess. Because both of his parents were semi-famous musicians, he’s always been in the eye of the press, and when his relationship went up in flames, the ensuing disaster all but ruined his life.

The rational version of Luc, the one from the parallel universe where my dad wasn’t a famous shithead and my ex-boyfriend hadn’t sold all my secrets to Piers Morgan, tried to tell me I was overreacting. Unfortunately, I wasn’t listening.

But now he has a job at a charity working to save the Dung Beetle (CRAPP).

Dr. Fairclough would argue that homeless people are human beings and, thus, plentiful and ecologically somewhere between insignificant and a net detriment. Unlike dung beetles, which are irreplaceable. Which is why she looks at the data and I talk to the press.

His mother and his friends have remained steadfast and everything is mostly ok–until a literal stumble ends with him in the tabloids and in need of rehabilitating his image.

“I thought you said I wasn’t going to get fired.”

“As long as the Beetle Drive is successful, you may go to whatever bars you please and wear whatever mammalian appendages you like.”

“Yay.”

“But right now”— she cast me a cold glance—“ your public image as some kind of barebacking, coke-snorting, buttockless-trouser-wearing pervert has scared away three of our biggest donors, and I need not remind you, our donor list is straying perilously close to single digits.”

Maybe not the best time to tell her about the emails I’d received this morning. “So what am I supposed to do?”

“Rehabilitate yourself fast. You need to go back to being the sort of harmless sodomite that Waitrose shoppers can feel good about introducing to their left-wing friends and smug about introducing to their right-wing friends.”

It doesn’t go well.

This books is marvelous. Utterly marvelous. It is snarky and angsty and funny and had me laughing and sniffling in turns.

It’s over-the-top, and his friends are ridiculous, but is also slowly peels away the layers Luc has been building around himself till you see that he is an absolute mess, but trying to hide if from his friends for the past five years.

The scene when his friends come over to help him clean his apartment is the point you realize he really is just as much of a mess as he had been joking he was, and the damage done by his ex and by the press was heart-breakingly deep.

This book is told only from Luc’s POV, and that is perfect for this story. To Luc, Oliver is pretty much perfect, and with Luc’s damage, it’s easy to miss just how human Oliver is as well, until suddenly Oliver’s damage is right there in your face.

It’s just lovely AND there is no on-the-page boinking! All but perfect!

Publisher : Sourcebooks Casablanca

Rating: 9.5/10

Reread: November 2020 | Rating: 9.5/10

Husband Material (2022)

Husband MaterialAlthough the characters are the same, this is a very different book from Boyfriend Material. Which I utterly adored.

That doesn’t mean this book wasn’t excellent, just that you need to go into it with different expectations.

First and foremost, Alexis Hall said he wanted to write a gay Four Weddings and a Funeral. So it’s not a romance, in that the couple were already together, but there is a HEA (in case you were worried). But knowing the overall plot of the movie will give you an idea of where he is going with the story.

Which is perfectly fine.

The … theme? I’m not sure that’s the correct term, but it’s closest I have right now, is how much Luc and Oliver and changed in the intervening two years.

Primarily that they think and talk about try to rein themselves in when their thoughts go to the worst possible place.

“But what if knowing it’ll make him feel better makes me feel worse?”

“Then maybe you need to revisit the does-he-have-power-over-you question.”

Oh. Right. My shoulders drooped. I was supposed to be… not like this anymore. “Why do people keep having power over me?”

I think that’s one of the things I loved most. How one of the two would start to put themselves in a bad place, and then (try at least to) stop themselves.

I miss you, I sent.

I didn’t get anything back, which I knew rationally meant Oliver was in court, but which I felt emotionally meant I’d destroyed my relationship by being insufficiently committed to Pretty Woman.

That’s the thing about anxiety and insecurity and all that. It doesn’t go away, you just learn tools for dealing with it. And I really love how we see Luc (and Oliver) starting to spiral, and then catching themselves. Eventually.

Oliver took a deep breath. “You are not that kind of person. You just worry you might be every time somebody likes you.” That was at once reassuring and embarrassing.

“Stop knowing me,” I whined.

Also, we get to see Oliver’s issues and how he is dealing with them.

(H)e’d got to the point where he was no longer obsessively going to the gym every day and treating food like the enemy, but worrying less about his body ninety percent of the time had made him more self-conscious the other ten percent.

Plus, it’s romantic in a very Oliver & Luc way.

“Oliver. It’s not your job to make being with you convenient for me. Just like it’s not my job to make being with me convenient for you.

The only weak spot for me was the ending. I mean, being familiar with Four Weddings and a Funeral, I knew how it was supposed to end. But it was difficult to see both Luc and Oliver get so completely wrapped around their own heads.

All in all, it was good, and I loved it–but I don’t think I love it quite as much as the first book.

Publisher: Sourcebooks Casablanca

Rating: 8/10

 

Winner Bakes All

 

Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake (2021)

Rosaline Palmer Takes the CakeRosaline Palmer gave up medical school to become a single mother.

“The last bold thing I did was decide I was keeping the baby, and while I’m glad I did, as decisions go it’s not exactly been without consequences.”

She loves her daughter, and manages, mostly, but wants something more.

The problem is she isn’t sure she wants what her parents want for her.

“I don’t want to be famous. I just want… enough money to pay for some things and enough people to think I’m good at baking that I might be able to get a slightly better job.”

“Truly. Yours is a hubris of Homeric proportions.”

There are some fascinating things in this story, from Rosie being a single mother, to her being bisexual but ending up dating a guy, which, I honestly understand why Alexis did this, since bisexuality often ends up demonized in the straight and gay communities, but that thread felt heavy-handed at times.

Another thing I found fascinating is that several of the unspoken rules of romance were broken, but of course I can’t talk about them without giving away important parts of the story. So–I really like that thing Alexis did. ;)

And I was really pleased with Amelie in the story. She isn’t a plot moppet and also comes across as an actual kid.

Amelie beamed up at her not, if Rosaline was honest, looking hugely like she’d missed her times very much at all. “I had a lovely weekend with Auntie Lauren and we played games and watched television and made sandwiches and”— she cast Lauren a conspiratorial glance—“ I always went to bed on time and ate very healthily.”

And as expected, lots of amusing dialog.

And besides, the quiet ones always go like a train.”

“I’m not totally convinced I want a train in my vagina.”

“I said like a train. Meaning powerful and enduring.”

“You don’t use public transport much, do you?” asked Rosaline, laughing. “You say train to me, and I think overcrowded, endlessly delayed, and subject to constant technical failures.”

I’ll be honest–there was a lot of buzz about this story, and I went in afraid it wouldn’t live up to the hype–or to some of my other favorite Alexis books–but it was good, and I enjoyed it very much.

Publisher: Forever

Rating: 8/10

 

Fantasy

 

Kate Kane, Paranormal Investigator

 

Iron & Velvet (2013/2019)

 

Iron & VelvetKate Kane is a paranormal private investigator, called when something goes wrong i the supernatural world.

She’s called out to Velvet–an expensive nightclub–to investigate the exsanguiation of a werewolf in the back alley.

It doesn’t look like he had been killed by a vampire, but it is something the vampires definitely want looked into.

Alexis hall definitely has a voice. And that voice is snark.

“Well, you’re just what I was expecting, Ms. Saint-Germain.” I folded my arms and pointedly neglected her title.

“Call me Julian, sweeting. Let’s be intimate.”

“Let’s not. And don’t call me sweeting.”

So Kate smokes and drinks and has lots of ex-girlfriends–very much a female version of your standard noir detective.

She also has powers she doesn’t want to use.

Of all my unwanted gifts, this was the one I tried hardest not to use. It made me lose myself, which wouldn’t be a problem on its own, but it turned me into something I liked even less.

Which puts her a bit in John Bloody Taylor territory.

Although I could have done without the boinking, I get that it’s a thing with noir so it wasn’t a deal breaker.

Also:

As a general rule, I’m suspicious of unassuming men in their late fifties because they’re usually terrifying supernatural monsters.

Probable truth.

Publisher : Carina Press

Rating: 8/10

 

Prosperity

 

Prosperity (2018)

ProsperitySet in Prosperity in 1863.

I’ve had this book for a bit, but wasn’t sure I was in the mood for a fantasy, but when a discussion of Our Flag Means Death. Which I haven’t seen, but sounds utterly marvelous. So since I’m not going to be watching Our Flag Means Death, I could read Prosperity.

First off, I love Piccadilly’s voice.

I reckon living itself is a filched business.

He thoughts on life and the world–although it isn’t our world–often strikes to the heart of things.

I been getting through life taking whatever I needed and whatever I wanted, but words, they ain’t for filching. I know cos I’ve tried. Somebody has to give them to you, and nobody ever thought to do it for me. And the not having just made me want ’em even more.

He’s presented as a scoundrel with a heart of gold, but insists he isn’t.

He might not be, but he is an angel compared to Milord.

“How in the name o’ the profane canst thou shoot someone in the shoulder, and say ’tis a dilberrying accident?”

His eyes met mine, clink clink like twin bullets finding their mark. “I was aiming for your heart.”

This story isn’t about Milord’s redemption, and it also isn’t a romance, as much as Piccadilly would like it to be. Just make sure you have the clear before starting.

The biggest thing about the story is, it is hugely and apologetically queer.

Every single character is queer, and it’s the way things are. That’s not to say the entire world in which Prosperity exists is queer, but the floating town of Prosperity simply accepted everyone, as they present themselves.

I didn’t like Milord (any more than Piccadilly did) and I didn’t understand Ruben, but the story wasn’t about them (as much as it was in many ways a romance seen from the outside). The story was about how Piccadilly came to Prosperity and aboard the Shadowless.

Rating: 8/10

Liberty & Other Stories (2018)

Liberty & Other StoriesShackles
Squamous with a Chance of Rain
From the Journal of Mrs. Miranda Lovelace
Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies
Liberty

This is collection of stories about the characters from the Prosperity.

The first story, Shackles, was my least favorite. Because I don’t much like Milord, and I am unable to understand the relationship between him and Ruben.

Squamous with a Chance of Rain is Jane’s back story, and is a cross between The Sound of Music and Lovecraft.

I am sure had I been delivered of seven children in such improbable haste I would not be sitting on a swing with my skirts full of rose petals.

From the Journal of Mrs. Miranda Lovelace is a very short story that sets up the rest of the stories.

Cloudy Climes and Starless Skies is Byron Kae’s story, and was possibly my favorite of the lot.

It was just . . . oh, I don’t know . . . difficult, in a manner beyond expectation or anticipation, to be suddenly made a stranger to myself. To find a reflection in the glass that spoke of someone else’s wishes, not my own, and to know that this . . . this distorted simulacrum was what the world would see.

Both because Byron Kae is my second favorite character in the series, and because it has bits of Dil (my first favorite character).

As long as we tell their stories, the people we love will never be lost.

Liberty is the final story, and ties together all the stories in the anthology.

[Again, the recording dissolves to static. The previous transcriber insisted that— if this section of the cylinder is played back and the listener pays close attention to sounds on the edge of hearing— ancient and blasphemous voices can be heard in the chaos. The previous transcriber has since been committed to a sanatorium, and no attempt has been made to confirm his claims.]

The stories were good, but Lovecraft really isn’t my thing, so most of the stories were a bit much.

Rating: 7.5/10

 

The Affair of the Mysterious Letter (2019)

The Affair of the Mysterious LetterCaptain John Wyndham has returned to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years of war. He needs rooms, but anything nice is beyond what he can afford–until he sees a posting.

Co-tenant required. Rent reasonable to the point of arousing suspicion. Tolerance for blasphemies against nature an advantage. No laundry service.

And that’s how he met Ms. Shaharazad Haas.

He had left his home of the Kingdom of Ey, because of societal restrictions, however, he’s not quite comfortable with just how relaxed everyone else is, and is often taken aback by the actions and language of Haas.

Ms. Haas moved her mouth close my ear. “I cannot believe I engaged in connubial activities with this gentleman. But I suppose I was very young.”

As a matter of record, I should add that the words “engaged,” “connubial,” “activities,” and “gentleman” were not, in actuality, used by Ms. Haas at this juncture, but I have taken some licence in representing her use of language in order to protect the sensibilities of my readers.

In other words, John Wyndham is delightful, trying to keep his ethics and morals why also accepting a roommate who is–pretty much–the exact opposite.

It’s goofy and silly and although it edges around elements of horror, the main character is so calm and straitlaced it never makes it there.

“I have no doubt you think me very foolish. But I shall always offer aid to those who may need it, and on this principle, I shall not compromise.”

It’s a cute romp, and I enjoyed it.

Publisher: Ace

Rating: 7.5/10

 

Something Fabulous

 

Something Fabulous (2022)

Something FabulousSet in Historical England.

To be honest, I don’t think this is historical England as much as fantasy historical England. Which is fine, since as he says in the author’s note, almost everyone in the story is queer.

Valentine Layton, the Duke of Malvern is expected to marry Miss Arabella Tarleton. It’s what their fathers’ wanted and he will do his duty.

Arabella, however, has no desire to be a duty.

So she runs away. And Valentine and Arabella’s twin brother Bonny must go after her.

This is a very, very silly story.

“You see,” Tarleton pressed him, “why I’m concerned?”

“As it happens I do. I’m relieved that one of you at least is blessed with some modicum of sense.”

“I mean, she could be captured by pirates or highwaymen or . . . or vampires or anything.”

“Forgive me, I spoke prematurely.”

To be honest, I need to reread this book with the initial mindset that it is a comedic historical fantasy. I was expecting it to be one thing, and it was completely different, and I failed to wrap my head around that.

Which is why I’ve been rereading so much for the past two years.

Valentine is in the category of demi / gray ace , which is why he has such a difficult time with, well, almost everything.

“No,” said Valentine slowly, and with a vague sense of dread that perhaps he was going to be peculiar even by the standards of people who were peculiar. “I have never felt that sort of inclination towards anyone, man or woman.”

I think part of what I had a difficult time with is that I identified with Valentine on that level so much that I had a hard time sympathizing with Bonny at times, and Arabella at all.

I mean, yeah, Valentine is an arrogant and entitled ass, but he really doesn’t know any other way to be.

While Valentine had been nebulously aware he was considered handsome, he had never quite known what to do about it. Grown increasingly taunted by it across the years. What, after all, was the use of being pleasing to the eye when he had found in himself only an obscure hollowness? A well of waiting and searching and wanting but never finding in which he had drowned a little deeper with every day that passed.

The world is an incredibly strange place when you don’t understand most of what goes on around you.

Publisher: Montlake

Rating: 7/10

 

Mystery

 

Murder Most Actual (2021)

Murder Most ActualLiza and Hannah are having a bit of struggle with their marriage. A struggle that Hannah tried to help by scheduling a vacation for just the two of them: no internet, no cell services, just the two of them in the wilds of Scotland.

Except that Hannah didn’t consult Liza about any of it.

So they are having problems.

Liza allowed herself a quiet moment to resent the fact that Hanna hadn’t just been overbearing; she’d been overbearing and right.

Their fellow guests are an interesting sort: everything from a retired colonel to a professor to a man and his aunt.

“Belloc’s an ass,” declared the colonel.

The door burst open.

“Oh, is he?” demanded Belloc, who Liza would have bet money had been waiting outside for the perfect moment to make a big entrance. “But I wonder, would the great Colonel Coleman have the courage to say this to Belloc’s face?”

The colonel stared at him. “You’re an ass.”

And a private investigator who speaks about himself in the third person.

But when the first death happens, Liza becomes interested and Hannah becomes frustrated. After all Liza is only a true crime podcaster, she’s not a criminologist or detective.

First, this is very definitely an Alexis Hall book. His voice is distinct and he does lovely banter.

This was beginning to add up. Not necessarily to add up correctly, but to add up to something, like when you split the bill in a restaurant and somehow everybody came out feeling like they were down about a fiver.

Second, it’s a rom-com murder mystery based upon Clue with characters like Colonel Coleman and Ruby.

It’s also fun, although I did get thrown a couple times such as when they were outdoors someone was described as looking down at the floor. (Is that a British thing? I thought a floor was a finished surface?.) And also when we learn there are stables, with horses–so why didn’t someone take a horse into town to fetch the police when the phone lines went down?

But it was fun.

Will you guess the murderer? Likely not. But for me that’s not the fun of a cozy mystery.

Published: Rakuten Kobo Inc

Rating: 8/10