Back in October during Queer Romance Month, I picked up A Matter of Disagreement by E.E. Ottoman. The premise of the book grabbed me right away: two steampunk scientists have an academic difference of opinion regarding the future of their chosen field of mechanical animation. As plots go, it’s a fresh one, and the conflict between the two main characters is not trivial. In fact, they are genuinely atrocious to each other for much of the novel. It’s an incredibly sexy ramp-up that left me panting for the moment when they would finally succumb to their attraction to one another, among other things.
Andrea, Lord Ashcroft de Bourbon, is a gently-born scientist who has been effectively disinherited by his family because of his insistence on an academic career. Rather than lead an idle life as a lord, he obtains grants for his research until changes in his field make acquiring funding difficult. Those changes are largely the fault of the charming, erudite Marquis de la Marche, and Andrea bitterly resents him for it. To make matters worse, one of his favorite research assistants and a gifted scientist in his own right is going to be forced to take another position outside academia if Andrea can’t come up with sufficient funding. Andrea is grumpy, short, pudgy and ill-understood by just about everyone. He’s really having quite a difficult time of it at the beginning of the novel.
Gregory, the Marquis de la Marche, is Andrea’s scientific rival. His wardrobe is to die for and he’s also much more conventionally handsome, confident and dashing than Andrea. Their first meeting is one of the most
appealing I’ve read this year. Though they have corresponded forever via opposing journal articles, they don’t meet in person until they encounter one another in Gregory’s laboratory during a party he should have been hosting up at his house. They are immediately attracted to one another, both physically and intellectually. It isn’t until late in the conversation that they discover each others’ identity, and Andrea goes storming off.
Andrea and Gregory are fantastically awful to each other throughout much of the novel, making their banter incredibly quick and clever. I was reminded of Elizabeth and Darcy in their worst moments, though these two are substantially more cutting. There’s something so delicious about an enemies to lovers narrative. When they finally do get together, the sex is just as explosive as you might expect from two such passionate people. It’s sexy and tender and humorous, just like the rest of the book.
The world-building in this book is also unique, particularly with regard to legal, scientific, and medical details, which normally get overlooked in steampunk fiction in favor of weaponry and other engineering marvels. I did
feel there were a few areas where the world-building could have been more substantial. Details of society, magic, and engineering felt sketched in at points, so I’m looking forward to future books in the series shedding more light. But the information we are given supports Gregory’s personal history, especially his transition. It isn’t until midway through the novel that we learn Gregory is trans*, which has implications in their society beyond gender identity, specifically in terms of inheritance law. And when Gregory recounts his story to Andrea, it marks a turning-point in their relationship for the better.
A Matter of Disagreement is one of those brainy romance reads that I wish were more common. It’s terrifically romantic, but the scientific context, family politics and unrelentingly witty dialogue made it shine. And finally,
and this is odd for me because I never comment on covers, but I just love this one. Romance covers are terrible pet peeve of mine. If all of them looked like this one though, I might buy more physical books.
My holiday baking is epic. I’ve stopped counting how many dozens of cookies I make because last year it freaked me out. I think it was 72 dozen or maybe 84 dozen? For the math-challenged, that works out to 864 cookies. Or maybe 1,008? That sounds about right. Anyway, it’s a lot of cookies. They all get eaten
every year though. And not by me!
For years I have made pretty much the same basic bunch of recipes: gingerbread cookies, Mexican wedding cakes, decorated sugar cookies, jam thumbprint cookies, chocolate peppermint bark, chocolate-dipped meringues, and my favorite, Earl Grey tea cookies. And usually one or two others depending on my mood and what kind of ingredients I have left over. I’ve got a recipe to try this year with cardamom and crystallized ginger that sounds interesting, for instance.
So this is a tried and true recipe that I fussed with just a smidge. In A Matter of Disagreement, The Marquis wears an aftershave that smells of black tea and lavender, which immediately made me think of adding lavender to these Earl Grey tea cookies. For the record, I would completely fall all over anyone who walked around smelling like black tea and lavender. I mean, holy smokes, how hot is that?
Anyway, about a week before baking, I put 2 tablespoons of culinary lavender in 2 cups of granulated sugar and shook it every day until the whole thing smelled and tasted faintly of lavender. When it was time to make the cookies, I considered straining out the flowers, but decided against it since I make these in the food processor anyway and all the lavender would get pulverized along with the loose black tea. If you’re using a mixer though, you might want to remove the flowers or at least pulverize them with a spice grinder or mortar and pestle.
It’s a small amount of lavender when all is said and done, about half a tablespoon, so you just get a floral hint along with the tea flavor. It makes the cookies ever-so-slightly more complex. These might seem a little different, but they’re really excellent. Whenever I give these to people, they’re always skeptical and it always ends up being their favorite.
adapted from Real Simple Magazine
Makes: 4 dozen
Time: 1 hour, 30 minutes (Hands-on Time: 30 minute) + 1 week1/2 cup granulated sugar
1/2 tablespoon culinary lavender
2 cups all-purpose flour
1/2 cup powdered sugar
2 tablespoons Earl Grey tea leaves (approximately 6 tea bags)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
1 teaspoon water
1 cup salted butter, softened1. About a week before baking, add lavender to granulated sugar and mix to combine. Cover and set aside, shaking daily to redistribute the lavender.
2. Pulse together granulated sugar, Earl Grey tea leaves and salt in a food processor until tea and lavender are pulverized. Add flour and powdered sugar. Pulse briefly to combine. Add the vanilla, water and butter. Pulse together until a dough forms.
3. Divide the dough in half. Lay out two sheet of plastic wrap and roll the dough into 12″ long logs. You can flatten each side for square cookies or leave round for circular cookies. Chill for a minimum of 30 minutes or as long as overnight.
4. Preheat oven to 375 degrees F. Prepare two baking sheets with parchment paper. Remove dough from fridge and slice approximately 1/3 inch slices. Place on baking sheets about 2 inches apart.
5. Bake for 10-12 minutes until lightly browned. Allow to cool on sheets for 5 minutes, then transfer to wire racks to cool completely. Cookies last up to a week, tightly wrapped.