Battle Hill Bolero by Daniel José Older is third in the Bone Street Rumba trilogy, one of the best urban fantasy series I’ve ever read because of its superb, deep grounding in contemporary Brooklyn. I’d been hoarding it for a while; I bought this series as it came out, but enjoyed it so much I didn’t want to devour it all in one swoop. Compared to the previous two books in the trilogy, the conclusion is epic, as in, there is a literal epic battle between forces of freedom and bureaucracy featuring the dead, and the not-quite-alive, and various spiritual beings of uncertain provenance (not sure where the River Giants originated in the world of the books, but they’re cool), and even creatures of Hell. The human characters I love so much – Gordo, Baba Eddie and his husband Russell, and Kia – have smaller roles this time, but they are there, and very much themselves when they do appear. One thing that did surprise me is that after an extremely intense and logical separation at the end of the second book, Midnight Taxi Tango, Carlos and Sasha reconnected; but after they did, it felt right to me, just as it should have been, which I think is an impressive sign of Older’s skill as a writer. To me, their reconnection signaled a change in level between the first two books and the last. The first two were urban fantasy very grounded in place and character; the third takes it up a notch and though the characterization and specific detail of the setting are still present, everything has a more expansive, mythological feel. Songs will be sung of the deeds in this book. I highly recommend the trilogy, but definitely start at the beginning with Half-Resurrection Blues.
The Physicians of Vilnoc by Lois McMaster Bujold is currently the last in the Penric and Desdemona series; Penric is summoned by his brother-in-law the general to try and solve the puzzle of a mysterious illness in the fort causing fever, bruising, and death, and try to learn how the disease is spreading. Despite being in the midst of a real-life pandemic, I was not too worried about the fictional one, since I assumed the story would have a happy ending (it did). It was more of a problem-solving episode on Penric’s part, as he was separated from his family for the duration and instead interacting with people new to him.
The Courtesan and the Clergyman: A Game of Chance and Love by L.A. Hall is a brief, sweet view of Abby Gowing’s courtship with Thomas Thorne as they both move into a new stage of their life. It’s thirteenth in the “Clorinda Cathcart’s Circle,” but because the stories jump around in time a bit, you can easily read this one out of sequence.
From the Ground Up by Rianne is a Check Please! novel about Kent Parson overcoming his own internalized homophobia and fear of coming out; he’s paired with an original character who’s a journalist from Quebec. Jack and Bitty appear very, very briefly.
Way Down We Go by xiaq is a Draco Malfoy/Harry Potter story mostly set in Alabama, where they’ve both fled at different times for different reasons. It’s AU so far as I can tell; Draco is outcast from society after the War and Harry has become extremely magically powerful. The main reason I found it interesting was the in-universe existence of fanfiction about Draco and Harry, which some of the characters have read, and which they point out to Draco and Harry. It’s not a huge part of the story, but I always note when writers do meta stuff like that.
My Home And Native Land by copperbadge is an absolutely delightful tale of how Ronon Dex decided to become a Canadian. Highly recommended.
Fanfiction, Great British Bake Off Edition:
Here I shall write about my new fandom, fictional universes mashed up with the Great British Bake Off. Rather than be judge-y, I’m going to talk about the stories I enjoyed most, rather than those I felt were underbaked, or lacked the flavors I prefer.
The Art Of Cooking For Two by littleblackfox is an MCU AU, no superpowers, with Nick Fury as a cranky Paul Hollywood avatar and Peggy Carter, old lady version, filling the role of Mary Berry to absolute perfection. The only thing I felt it lacked was enough T’Challa; the story is from 2016, so his movie (2018) wasn’t out yet, and thus his characterization felt sort of misty, beyond him being hyper competent. The story is from Bucky’s point of view, and follows the same pleasantly repetitive structure as GBBO itself. Alexander Pierce is a character as well, so it’s no surprise when he turns out to be an untrustworthy contestant. I loved this one for the relationships. Bucky and Steve is the obvious one, and Thor and Jane, but Bucky also develops a mentor/father relationship with Wanda, Luis flirts with Peggy and is a good friend to all, Bruce is nuanced in a minor role. I had read this one before, but that was before I’d seen GBBO, so it was lovely to revisit. Includes recipes!
The Master Bakers by EverlivingGhosts is a non-sfnal AU of the new Star Wars movies; for example, creepy judge Snoke is just an unpleasant human being. Hux is the point-of-view character, a very introverted and self-doubting perfectionist who is out to win and that’s all. Then Kylo Ren shows up on his motorcycle, messy and artistic and emotional, and the game is on. They end up together, of course. Phasma is a great character in this, though her role is small. This story was incredibly sweet, and in the background Finn, Poe, and Rey are as OT3 as you can wish for.
Red Velvet, White Meringue, and Royal Icing by HMS_Chill is an AU of the book Red, White, & Royal Blue by Casey McQuiston, which I have not yet read. I had no trouble following the story, which follows the “plot” of a season of GBBO, though I imagine I was missing Easter Eggs about all the secondary bakers. Alex is from Texas and a law student in the UK, where his mother and sister also live. Henry works for a theater, researching production design and historical elements of the plays they’re producing. There’s a slow-building, sweet romance between the two main characters. This is the first GBBO AU I’d read in which real life judges Paul and Prue and real life hosts Noel and Sandi appear as background characters.
Sugar and Spice by authorette, GBBO mixed with Emmerdale, is a lovely (and canonical) F/F romance that, unusually, is from the pov of the person who does not go to the Great British Bake Off. Veterinarian Vanessa Woodfield gets signed up for the show by her sister; Charity Dingle volunteers to be her Fake Girlfriend to obtain publicity for her pub. Charity is surprised by how meaningful this relationship becomes to her but takes a little while to overcome self-doubt and trust in Vanessa’s feelings for her. Emmerdale is a very long-running British soap opera, but you don’t need to have ever seen it to enjoy this story.
Love is a Layered Cake by WorryinglyInnocent blends GBBO with Once Upon A Time in a non-magical setting. Sheep farmer and contestant Raymond “Rum” Gold (Rumpelstiltskin) has been entered without his knowledge by his teenaged son, but goes along with it because one of the judges is his longtime celebrity crush, Belle. Gold’s aunt Elvira and son Bae are delightful, as are Belle’s judging partner Granny and eccentric contestant Jefferson (The Mad Hatter, played by Sebastian Stan in the series). The Belle/Rum pairing is canonical. I don’t think you need to have seen the show, but it helped for identifying the contestants and getting related in-jokes. The series is currently available on Disney+ if you’re curious, and there are tons of clips out there. I had seen a few episodes previously.
Pies and Prejudice by linoresearch whips GBBO together with a mundane-world version of Supernatural for an American-set version of the baking show, while also mashing it up with Pride and Prejudice, featuring Dean Winchester and Castiel Novak. Dean has been signed up by his brother Sam, and convinced to participate by the fees he will be paid and the potential for a cash prize (Ah, America!). Yes, Dean makes pie. The secondary characters and the realistic background details of the show, which moves from mansion to mansion all over the country, are great. The mash-up element sometimes fits awkwardly because bits of Austen dialogue seem out of place in the contemporary world, from a diction standpoint. I was impressed, regardless.
Long before I saw GBBO, I read four and twenty lovebirds (baked in a pie) by stardust_rain, a Rivers of London/GBBO mashup, so reread it for this post. It’s less about GBBO itself and more about the fallout when a contestant (Peter Grant) begins a relationship with a judge (Nightingale) after the show ends, and the tabloids run rampant over their lives. Yes, there is a happy ending.