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ARC Review: Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: April 11, 2023


From the USA Today bestselling author of Boyfriend Material comes a riotous Regency romp full of art, expensive hats, and a love that is nothing short of spectacular.

Peggy Delancey’s not at all ready to move on from her former flame, Arabella Tarleton. But Belle has her own plans for a love match, and she needs Peggy’s help to make those plans a reality. Still hung up on her feelings and unable to deny Belle what she wants, Peggy reluctantly agrees to help her woo the famous and flamboyant opera singer Orfeo.

She certainly doesn’t expect to find common ground with a celebrated soprano, but when Peggy and Orfeo meet, a whole new flame is ignited that she can’t ignore. Peggy finds an immediate kinship with Orfeo, a castrato who’s just as nonconforming as she is—and just as affected by their instant connection.

They’ve never been able to find their place in the world, but as the pair walks the line between friendship, flirtation, and something more, they may just find their place with each other.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

There’s something magical about Alexis Hall’s writing. His books are hilarious and witty and full of unexpectedly profound truths about life and love and everything in between, and always wonderfully, unapologetically queer. I always find myself highlighting dozens upon dozens of passages and then agonizing over which to choose for my ‘favorite quotes’ section of my review blog posts. Again and again his writing has me collapsing with laughter and then startled into profound revelations when my guard is down. This book is hilarious and tender and incisive with biting social commentary. Every character is ridiculous and dramatic and I love them all.

In this book we have Peggy, who is genderfluid – not only a woman nor only a man – and is often quite cross and contrary about it, and about how the world wants to box her in no matter how vehemently she protests. And then we have Orfeo, an agender castrati opera singer who is also neither man nor woman, simply beautiful. And though some of that was forced upon them, they would be neither man nor woman either way. Being nonbinary myself, I really appreciated seeing them struggle with and ultimately joyfully accept themselves and each other as they are.

Their love story is at times stunningly gorgeous and at times hilarious, and it was a joy to watch them discovering deeper truths about themselves and one another.

It was wonderful to see Valentine and Bonny and Belle and Sir Horley again, for they bring the sheer ridiculousness energy they brought in Something Fabulous. I do feel the Sir Horley marriage thread got dropped abruptly, but I’m hoping that’s just because there will be a third book focusing on him in the future.

I hope we get more of Belle, too, as her ending was also a little abrupt and I found her realization that she is aromantic, after a lifetime diet of nothing but romantic books and daydreams, very interesting, especially when contrasted with her twin Bonny, who is romantic to his core. I would like to see Bonny realizing that Belle, though his twin, is also her own person and they do not have to share everything and his dreams do not need to be her dreams.

I really liked the addition of the Duke and Duchess of Marshalsea, and I hope we see more of them in future books as well.

The final scene, involving four participants, struck me as one of the more profound sex scenes I’ve encountered. It was so unusual, and had so much love and care and trust in it, and such a striking lack of awkwardness, that I found it quite moving. And that’s coming from someone who doesn’t normally enjoy sex scenes. It’s the kind of scene that’s incredibly difficult to write well, and it’s executed beautifully. Just four people who love and trust one another unconditionally, finding joy and even further closeness together.

In case it wasn’t already clear, I adored Something Spectacular. I adored Something Fabulous as well, but I may adore this even more. I will now commence hoping for further sequels.

*Thanks to NetGalley and Montlake for providing an early copy for review.

Favorite Quotes:

(Yes, there are far too many, I know. But Alexis Hall is one of my absolute favorite authors and I have already cut 75% of what I highlighted.)

“Letter for you, darling.” Glancing up from her book, Peggy’s mother gestured with a forkful of bacon, causing the bacon to fly off the fork and land in her husband’s teacup. “Oh, bother.”

Mr. Delancey de-baconed his tea. “Thank you, pet. I always felt what tea was missing was more meat.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Oh my God.” Belle’s voice broke upon them as abruptly as if she’d dropped a piano on their heads from the floor above.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was at this moment that Belle popped up like a shark beneath a shipwreck, seizing both Peggy and Sir Horley. “Come. We need to be at the front”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was beautiful, but it was beautiful in the way that looking at the night was beautiful in winter, when it was at its blackest and coldest, and you felt as infinitesimal as the distant stars. It was beautiful as only the bloodiest sunsets and the most jagged mountains were beautiful. Terrible beauty, beauty that wanted to drive you to your knees and drink the tears from your eyes, the sort of beauty to rend skies and topple cathedrals, as impossible as the flame of Prometheus.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy had not come out tonight seeking a glimpse of the numinous, but the numinous was staring right at her regardless.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“So…” Peggy lurched to her feet. “I’m not very—I”m feeling a bit…” She could taste blood at the back of her throat. Her breath was knives. Her pulse a stampede of wild horses. “I think I might…”

Then the walls closed in, the ceiling rolled over like a dog wanting its tummy scratched, and the ground vomited itself into her face.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

It was almost imperceptible—perhaps so imperceptible that Peggy was probably imagining it, but something about Orfeo had changed. They offered the same warmth, the same curious gaze, the same tantalising play of humility and theatricality. But it was as though they had gilded themselves, somehow. Until they were nothing but the gleam of reflected light.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She wondered if Orfeo would be like that, a lion and an eagle and a fiercely burning flame before they were finally just themselves, safe and spoiled in Peggy’s arms.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“Perhaps had things been otherwise,” Orfeo went on, “I would have been a farmer like my father. Married some sweet. peasant girl. Had children of my own. Never dreamed in music and lived for the gleam of a thousand candles.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Someone who wasn’t her romance-oppositional best friend, an opera singer committed exclusively to their career, or a clergyman’s daughter with a fatal case of poetry.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And someday she was going to like somebody who didn’t see their life as a story they were telling instead of something they were living. Or, then again, maybe she wasn’t. Maybe dramatic beyond all reason was her type.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Because the soiree had been little more than a glimpse of this: the kind of beauty that did things to you. Hurt you and healed you and humbled you.

Left you not quite the same.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy tried to draw her knees up even more but was prevented by the limits of her own body and the physical laws of the universe. “It’s what they want.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She didn’t bother calling for a carriage because having to call a carriage to take you to the other side of the same damn square was the sort of nonsense society inflicted on ladies. And she wasn’t—had never been—a lady, and she was through with letting people force her to pretend to be one.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

He was fucking with her. Peggy was increasingly convinced he was fucking with her. This was going beyond butler and into obstructive.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“You’re not a coward, mio principe. Sometimes living, simply as we are, is the greatest act of courage there is.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

George bristled. “Are you ridiculing me Delancey? These are my feelings, in this sonnet. Do you know how difficult it is for a man like me to have feelings? I’m very athletic.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

In any case, Peggy liked the crocodile. For whatever reason, the taxidermist, perhaps not knowing very much about crocodiles, had positioned it on its hind legs, with its front claws extended before it and its long-snouted mouth open in an expression of mild exasperation. It was if it was saying “Oh, what the fuck now,” and it was exactly how Peggy wanted her visitors to be greeted.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Peggy wouldn’t have known to describe a piece of music as “fostering a vocal sensuality” if it stuck its tongue in her ear.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She could have told them that the world at large believed her made for certain things and that admitting she wanted them for herself felt like betrayal, triumph, and surrender all at once. She could have told them she thought that sometimes the only way to have a choice was to make it anyway.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

And Peggy wasn’t sure what was worse: resenting a piece of art for not speaking to you or having to face up to the fact it was.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“All I want”—it was Valentine’s most tragic voice—“is to be a very rich, powerful, and well-dressed man who gets to sleep until a sensible hour of one or two in the afternoon, and bathe uninterrupted at length.” He flung his arms to the heavens. “Is that too much to ask?”

As in answer, the sky darkened, and a few drops of rain plopped heavily down upon them.

“No,” said Valentine. He subjected the weather to a ducal glare. “Stop it. Stop it at once.”

Peggy patted him reassuringly on the arm. “We’re nearly there.”

They were not nearly there. But she didn’t want to admit that to Valentine in case he burst into tears or threw himself from the vehicle.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

She had always chosen to be the naysayer, the sensible one, the voice of reason when dragged into the latest round of Tarleton hijinks, but she had never once said no. Because, at the end of the day, a world full of adventures, romantic reversals, grand gestures, and happy endings was simply better than a world without.

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

“If we do get married,” said Orfeo dreamily, “I shall wear gold.”

“And I’m going to wear”—Peggy gave it some thought—“clothes.”

“And this is truly what you want?”

“To wear clothes at my wedding? Definitely.”

Something Spectacular by Alexis Hall

Best Books of 2022 — In Which I Fail Spectacularly to Compile a “Top Ten” List.

Image: Goodreads Year in Books 2022 – 166 Books read.

I read 166 books in 2022. Yes, some of them were shorter books: several middle-grade books and a few advanced review copies of picture books. Most were novels, though few were truly giant tomes. I really enjoyed most of them.

Which is to say, trying to pick the “top ten” was excruciating and an exercise doomed to failure. So… I cheated. Or rather, I modified the goal. Thus I present to you… my top 10 42 books read in 2022 (and even that is fudging things a bit as there are a few instances here of me using a single book to stand in for the entire series if I read the entire series in 2022 and didn’t want my list to balloon uncontrollably) organized like so:

  • Top 18 (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
  • Top 9 Romances read 2022
  • Top 9 Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022
  • Top 6 Fiction Books Read With Kiddo 2022

And just for funsies:

  • Song of the Year 2022

I have linked to the goodreads page for each book (and the youtube page for the song). Obviously these are all recommendations as well.

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 1)

Best (Non-Romance) Books read 2022
(Part 2)

Best Romances read 2022

Best Nonfiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Best Fiction Books Read With Kiddo (8) 2022

Aaaaaand, just for funsies:

Song of the Year 2022

ARC Review: Paris Daillencourt is About to Crumble by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: November 1, 2022


From the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material comes a sweet and scrumptious romantic comedy about facing your insecurities, finding love, and baking it off, no matter what people say. 

Paris Daillencourt is a recipe for disaster. Despite his passion for baking, his cat, and his classics degree, constant self-doubt and second-guessing have left him a curdled, directionless mess. So when his roommate enters him in Bake Expectations, the nation’s favourite baking show, Paris is sure he’ll be the first one sent home.
But not only does he win week one’s challenge—he meets fellow contestant Tariq Hassan. Sure, he’s the competition, but he’s also cute and kind, with more confidence than Paris could ever hope to have. Still, neither his growing romance with Tariq nor his own impressive bakes can keep Paris’s fear of failure from spoiling his happiness. And when the show’s vicious fanbase confirms his worst anxieties, Paris’s confidence is torn apart quicker than tear-and-share bread.
But if Paris can find the strength to face his past, his future, and the chorus of hecklers that live in his brain, he’ll realize it’s the sweet things in life that he really deserves.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This book took me longer to finish than any book (that I was actively reading) in recent memory. I started and finished several others before managing to finish this one and that is because it was incredibly emotionally difficult for me to read. I related to Paris too hard, you see, and so I spent most of the book cringing hard out of second-hand embarrassment.

This book is an incredibly accurate portrayal of mental illness – specifically anxiety that gets so bad it runs your life before you realize it. I’ve been there. Anxiety isn’t my only mental illness, but it has loomed very large in my life and so I felt everything Paris was feeling on a very visceral level.

Case-in-point: even though it was a struggle for me to read, I was wracked with anxiety and guilt the entire time because I love this author and I really did enjoy this book and had intended to finish and review it before publication and… well, it’s a month past publication date now so you can see how that’s going.

My thoughts at 50%: “I am making such painfully slow progress through this book and I feel so guilty about it because I’d meant to finish and review it, gods, weeks ago now. And the thing is, it’s not that I’m not enjoying it or something. It’s so so good. It’s funny and relatable and secondhand-embarassment-inducing because gods Paris is basically me. And it’s painful to see the worst of yourself in print. I love it.”

I am SO glad that Paris learned strategies to cope with his anxiety, as well as started medication for it. It’s so clear that he is so much better by the end. Still dealing with it, but actually dealing with it rather than flailing about and crying about everything and being terrified of everything and feeling guilty about everything. I also loved the group therapy sessions and the way Paris implements all the strategies for coping with his anxiety.

Tariq is adorable and while he certainly wasn’t perfect in their relationship I am glad for the way the book ended. They have the potential to be really, really good together, now that they both know where they stand and can really see each other.

I really enjoyed the reality baking show framework, and the other contestants were great. And the Daves. And Morag. Really, all the characters were such… individuals. They were 100% themselves and that is my favorite kind of character.

In some ways, I think it was good for me to read this. Because I can look back on my former (un-medicated and un-therapied) self and really see what went wrong in my relationships as I was growing up and all the ways my brain lied to me. Which is why it was SO important to see Paris getting better at realizing when his brain is lying and how to deal with it. We see his thoughts and the anxiety trying to take over and the way he can combat that (with effort).

I had no idea how much this book would affect me emotionally. I mean, intellectually I knew it involved anxiety, but I underestimated how difficult it would be. I have struggled with anxiety my whole life but have spent the last 15 years coming to terms with it and learning to manage it. My husband has only recently really begun that journey, as has my kid. Anxiety is practically another member of my family, in other words. And sometimes it’s hard to see something that is such a big part of your existence.

It’s had to see it, as in it’s almost invisible it’s so prevalent. But also hard to see it, as in it physically hurts to watch it play out and recognize how prevalent it is. Watching Paris apologize incessantly about things he really didn’t need to apologize for was a lot. I saw myself, and my husband, and my kid in that. Again the second-hand embarrassment was intense.

Even though this book was very much about Paris’ anxiety, it was also a funny story about a baking competition, and a relationship that had problems and obstacles but was also so incredibly sweet. I love Alexis Hall’s way with words, and his ability to create touching but also hilarious moments. His characters always feel so well-developed and real that they try to jump off the page, and this was no exception. I loved them all. (Except Catherine Parr and maybe Gretchen.)

I haven’t read the previous Bake Expectations book yet, but it didn’t impede my enjoyment of this story. I hope to get to it soon (and hope it’s not quite so emotionally difficult to read).

*Thanks to NetGalley and Forever for providing an early copy for review.

ARC Review: A Lady for a Duke by Alexis Hall

Publication Date: May 24, 2022


A lush, sweeping queer historical romance from the bestselling author of Boyfriend Material—perfect for fans of Netflix’s Bridgerton, Evie Dunmore, and Manda Collins!

When Viola Caroll was presumed dead at Waterloo she took the opportunity to live, at last, as herself. But freedom does not come without a price, and Viola paid for hers with the loss of her wealth, her title, and her closest companion, Justin de Vere, the Duke of Gracewood.

Only when their families reconnect, years after the war, does Viola learn how deep that loss truly was. Shattered without her, Gracewood has retreated so far into grief that Viola barely recognises her old friend in the lonely, brooding man he has become.

As Viola strives to bring Gracewood back to himself, fresh desires give new names to old feelings. Feelings that would have been impossible once and may be impossible still, but which Viola cannot deny. Even if they cost her everything, all over again.

My Review:

Rating: 5 out of 5.

This was Everything. I am aware that I say that… not infrequently, but when I love things, I really love them. And this… I had high hopes, because lets be honest, I love everything Alexis Hall writes, but this was so much more.

Regency romance? check. Loads of pining? check. Loads of queer and unconventional characters? check.

I’ve read books like that before, of course. Not many, not nearly as many as I would like, but there are some. But I’ve never read one with a trans main character, and I didn’t anticipate how deeply it would hit me, as a nonbinary person who, like Viola, has struggled with my identity and my body and my desire.

Viola Caroll is strong and determined and fierce and deeply, painfully relatable. She is unapologetically herself and I love her for that. Gracewood accepts her and loves her as she is and it’s possibly the most revolutionary idea in the whole book. Most dukes would not be so accepting, I think — although Gracewood has spent his life trying to break free of the idea of what a duke can be so maybe it’s not so surprising. Surprising or not, it makes for a beautiful love story.

This falls more on the angsty side than the humorous side, unlike many of Alexis Hall’s other works, though it is still funny in parts. It’s what I was in the mood for, though, so it worked out. The writing is, as I have come to expect, absolutely gorgeous. I highlighted so many passages, and I know I will be returning to it again. I just hope we get a sequel – Mira’s story would be an excellent candidate.

This book also touches on grief, child abuse, addiction, and chronic pain, and tackles these topics gracefully. The characters are flawed and human and real, even the side characters. And, more than anything, it shows the deep love and acceptance between the characters, despite their flaws. I loved every minute of it.

— update 5/28/22—

I have now listened to the audio arc and can say that the narrator performs the story beautifully, though I had my doubts in the first few minutes. The character voices are distinct and easy to understand and fit the characters’ personalities and the emotion and humor come through perfectly (which is good, because this story is all about a lot of emotion).

*Thanks to NetGalley, Forever (Grand Central Publishing), and Hachette Audio for providing an e-arc and audio arc for review.

Favorite Quotes:

“What other options? Men and women are permitted to interact in three ways: marriage, ruination, and polite indifference.”

“She’s a seventeen-year-old girl. She should be in London, having love affairs with unsuitable young men in a controlled environment. Not stuck in a mouldering fortress miles from anywhere.”

It made Viola feel oddly safe, this reminder that everyone lived their own illusions, chose their own truths, performed their own quiet magic before indifferent crowds.

She turned slowly, in case she scattered into dried leaves and dust.

“Loubear,” whispered Badger. “You have to be quiet when you’re eavesdropping. Otherwise it’s just a logistically difficult conversation.”

Viola was not certain that be virtuous, because vice is too much bother was quite the lesson a young gentleman was meant to be learning in these days of reason and enlightenment, but she let it go.

But there was a larger loneliness, one that came from inhabiting a space she’d had no choice but to build for herself, only to find that nobody could inhabit it with her.

As though he had become a man in a fable: lain with the wild ocean and woken, salt-stricken, forever changed, upon an unfamiliar shore.

“Suffering isn’t something we earn, Gracewood. It’s something we bear.”

Because that was the truth of trust. It was neither weak nor fleeting. It was steel and fire. And would endure as long as you let it.

Besides, it would not have done to read his sister’s intimate correspondence when there were ladies to do it for him.

The night beyond the city was mild and clear, the landscape a silvered forever—mirror-smooth fields, the ribbon twist of an occasional stream, ash trees, in curly-headed silhouette, cast like images from a magic lantern against the sky.

The night had been long and fraught and could have ended badly in so many ways. Could, in fact, end badly regardless. But still. What a marvel it was. What freedom. To be a woman unabashedly in love beneath a multitude of stars.