Category Archives: Book Reviews

Reading Rec: A Delicate Deception

A Delicate Deception takes two anxious messes with less than stellar communication skills and makes them fall in love with some incredibly delightful side characters to sweeten the deal.

delicate decept

Amelia Allenby just wants to be left alone. After a disastrous final season in London where she decided she had had enough, she retires to the country with her ex-governess to escape the demands of society life. All is going according to plan until Amelia runs into a stranger on her walk, a rather handsome stranger who has the gaul to be nice to her. Sydney is not thrilled to be back in town either. After the death of his brother and sister-in-law, he has avoided the old manor until his friend, the Duke of Hereford, summons him back, but he soon realizes the duke is nowhere to be found. Amelia and Sydney try to keep their identities a secret as they become entangled, but soon their attraction becomes too much to ignore.

I received an ARC of A Delicate Deception in exchange for an honest review, but more importantly, I’m a huge Cat Sebastian fan, so I’m already biased before the ARC reaches my inbox.

What I love most about many of Cat Sebastian’s novels is how much is going on inside the heads of her characters, especially as someone with anxiety and a tendency to overthink. Both Sydney and Amelia come off as very real but also different in how their issues manifest. There’s a wonderful balance between Amelia and Sydney in terms of temperament, and Sydney is *chef kiss*. Nothing like a hardworking male love interest with a job and passions, especially in a genre so full of dukes and aristocrats.

The novel is also populated with great side characters, like the Duke of Hereford and Amelia’s ex-governess, Georgiana. It isn’t often that we get a duke who is dealing with a physical disability, and on top of all that, everyone is queer. Despite these being a m/f romance, both Sydney and Amelia are queer, as are Lex and Georgiana. It’s really refreshing to read.

Most importantly, what I think the major takeaway from this book is, is the idea that family is what you make it, as is love, as is marriage. Cat Sebastian purposely challenges the traditional expectations of love and marriage, especially in historical-romance as a genre. A m/f romance that spits in the face of heteronormity and forces the reader to rethink their expectations and forces the characters to do the same, is one worth reading and recommending.

All in all, A Delicate Deception is an enjoyable yet thought provoking romance that looks to challenge expectations as well as what should be considered the norm.

You can grab a copy here and have it delivered to your Kindle tomorrow.

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Reading Rec: Gilded Cage

In Gilded Cage, we find a lady detective having to team up with an ex-flame but current jewel thief to clear his name of murder.

gilded cage

Templeton Lane, part of the infamous Lilywhite Boys, is no stranger to danger, but when he arrives to steal an opal necklace and stumbles across a double homicide, he knows he is in deep trouble. On the run and trying to keep his partner in crime and associates safe, he knows there is only one person he can turn to: Susan Lazarus. Susan hates the Lilywhite Boys and especially hates Templeton Lane after he deserted her when they were teens, but when Templeton turns up needing help, Lazarus decides she must get to the bottom of the mystery, even if it does help her lout of an ex. Together they must figure out who would want to set Templeton up before the villain takes them all down.

I received an ARC of Gilded Cage in exchange for an honest review. This book is also the second in the Lilywhite Boys series, so you should read book one (because it’s damn good) but it isn’t required.

If you like characters who have hard exteriors and rather soft insides, this series is probably for you. What I love about Lazarus and Lane are that they are hardened by the jobs and lives they have pursued separately, and even though they have been separated for years and reconnect under rather tense circumstances, they still fit. These characters don’t magically regress to who they were years ago when they meet. They’re still changed people and must learn to figure out if and how they fit. Of course there’s also the frustration of miscommunication and being on opposite sides of the law to contend with that give it an enemies to lovers feel, which just adds to the dramatic tension in the story. The moments of tenderness in this story help to counterbalance the tension and the horrific nature of the murders that make up the other half of the action.

And what a good mystery it is. A room full of jewels, a dead jeweler and his manservant, a lawyer, a newly discovered nephew, and a jewel thief who never should have made it out of the house alive. If you’ve ever read KJ Charles’s other works, you know she is ingenious when it comes to writing mysteries, and Gilded Cage is no different. There are enough moving parts and gaps in the narrative to keep it interesting without getting bogged down with procedural tedium. I love how the Lane and Lazarus work outside the law and manage to be underhanded without truly being criminal. It’s a fun knife’s edge to watch them walk, especially after knowing Lazarus’s origins from an earlier series. On that same note, we get to see how three of Charles’s series are interconnected and converge in this book. Lots of characters to run into twenty years down the line from their books along with others you won’t expect to hear about.

Overall, Gilded Cage is a cracking good mystery with complex characters learning to become better versions of themselves.

Gilded Cage comes out October 23rd, so keep your eye on Amazon or your favorite retailer for a copy.

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Reading Rec: A Little Light Mischief

A Little Light Mischief is a novella that captured my heart with a blunt lady’s maid and a cast out spinster teaming up for a bit of revenge and romance.

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Alice Stapleton is newly cast out and newly a lady’s companion, but now that she no longer has her father’s vicarage to run, she’s itching to something, which is apparently something the ton don’t do. To occupy herself, she sews, writes, and studies the assets of her companion’s lady’s maid. Molly knows Alice is watching, but she’s sworn off the sins of her past unless absolutely necessary, but there’s something about the quiet woman that intrigues her. As they grow closer, Alice and Molly find they have far more in common than they thought and embark on a revenge mission to get Alice back what she lost.

I received a copy of A Little Light Mischief in exchange for an honest review, and keep in mind, I really like Cat Sebastian’s books, so I’m a tad biased. If you like your romance on the low stress side, this novella is for you. Plus, it’s f/f, which is even better!

What I love about this story is both main characters are women with jobs. We tend to think of Regency period women as wandering aimlessly through the grounds or a mother, but both Molly and Alice are take-charge in their own ways and very capable people. There is discussion of women’s work in terms of value and the unseen toll of being a woman, especially under the control of a man. I love seeing this power dynamic being discussed in a context that isn’t centering on a marriage. Both Molly and Alice harbor secrets from their past, but neither dominates their lives and they aren’t the fallen angels some authors would happily portray them as.

Molly is what I wished other “strong” historical women were like. She’s loud, she’s take-charge, she’s cunning, but she isn’t a caricature. She’s multifaceted and willing to quiet down and meet Alice in the middle. Meanwhile, Alice is drawn out of her shell by Molly and uses her new-found moxie to help them both. Women helping women is my jam and needs to be in more f/f fiction (looking at you, Sarah Waters).

Overall, A Little Light Mischief is a wonderful f/f romance novella that has characters you cheer for and villains you are more than happy to see get their come-up-ins.

Grab your copy here.

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Reading Rec: Hither, Page

Hither, Page is a murder-town mystery featuring a spy, a doctor struggling with PTSD, a dead maid, and a socialist, flask-swilling, graveyard inhabiting teenage girl who may be my favorite person in a book ever.

hither page

Dr. Sommers wants nothing more than stability and to put the war behind him, but in a country that is still picking up the pieces, that’s hard to do, even harder when his town’s peace is shattered by the death of the town gossip. In comes Leo Page, a spy for the crown whose entire life has been a series of transient identities. Page and Sommers soon team up to discover who killed the gossiping chambermaid and uncover the townspeople’s secrets, but they find more than they bargained for in each other.

First off, I received an ARC of Hither, Page in exchange for an honest review, and secondly, I’m super biased because Cat Sebastian’s books are some of my favorites but if you like romance with mystery and social commentary, then you’ll probably like it as well.

This was one of those books that was so satisfying that I was beyond overjoyed to see that it was part of a series. What I loved about this book is how Sebastian is able to take characters who might be seen as horrid people in other lights and show their humanity and goodness. The characters in Hither, Page are layered, and as you get further in the book, the layers peel away to reveal who they truly are, for better or worse. Sommers is one of those do-gooders who truly only wants the best for others while Page is great at his job as an agent because it is so easy to shed identities when you never really had one. They compliment each other perfectly, stability and flux, and their relationship is a slower burn considering the genre.

The ensemble cast and setting are what really makes this couple shine. There are high stakes in terms of intrigue, but that’s tempered by a sleepy, peaceful country town filled with children and little old ladies who make ginger cookies. To counterbalance the imagery and aftermath of war, there is so much tenderness in this story. The imagery of Christmas decorations and canned soup on a cold night are touches that make this story shine above other historical romances.

Hither, Page comes out tomorrow! Pre-order a copy here.

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Reading Rec: Proper English

In Proper English by KJ Charles, we get a competitive riflewoman, a fiancee who needs to use her spine, and a shooting party complete with a dead body.

proper english

All Pat wants is a shooting party where she can relax and not think about what will happen now that her brother is to be married and she will have to move. What she thought would be a few days with the boys turns out to be a far more mixed party, but luckily, the distractions are worth it. Fenella, her friend’s fiancee, immediately catches her eye. On the outside she appears bubbly and shallow, she’s far more than she appears and is totally wasted on Jimmy. But as they grow closer, the party grows more tense with threats of blackmail that end in a murder. Together Pat and Fen must figure out who killed the blackmailer before more secrets are exposed.

It’s refreshing to have a f/f historical romance for once since typically I read far more m/m historical romance (since it’s more widely available and not nearly as expensive). I received an ARC of Proper English in exchange for an honest review and devoured it in two days. I regret nothing. Proper English is a fantastic balance between romance and mystery without either being skimped on. Both characters have gumption, in their own ways, and yet are feminine, once again, in different but equal ways. Pat is a champion markswoman who runs her brother’s house like a well oiled machine. She knows she will need to step down now that he is married, but she doesn’t know what she will do or if she should open a shooting school for women. Fen is much softer on the outside and often seen as frivolous because that is what is expected of her. Both women reveal they are far more than they appear on the outside. One of the things I always worry about with f/f historical romance is that they’ll be mean to each other or awful people (you can think Sarah Waters for scarring me there), but that isn’t a problem with KJ Charles’ work. They’re charming, flawed, and more than willing to grow and love.

As much as I liked the romance, I think I preferred the mystery more. Charles’ mysteries are always well crafted and have me guessing until the end as to who is the culprit. It’s rare that a writer can blend both genres so masterfully and manage to balance the narrative, so it doesn’t feel shoe-horned in. The suspects all have motive, and in the spirit of Clue, we all hate the murder victim and want to love the suspects. I think it makes it a little more fun when everyone thinks the victim had it coming.

Overall, Proper English is a wonderful f/f whodunit romance that gives us all we ever wanted in a f/f historical romance: two clever women, a party, steamy moments, and a dead body.

Grab a copy when Proper English releases tomorrow, May 8th.

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Reading Rec: A Duke in Disguise

In A Duke in Disguise, we get a long-lost nobleman, a saucy book about historical figures, and a woman who loves cheese nearly as much as I do.

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Verity wants nothing more than to keep her family’s paper open despite her brother heading recklessly toward the gallows with his seditious ramblings. The only thing that seems to temper him is their dear friend, Ash. Ash is adrift. His ex-guardian and dear friend is headed off to Italy to improve his health, and after moving in with Verity and her brother, he finds himself unable to maintain the distance he once was able with her. The attraction is mutual, but they fear what might happen should their friendship become more since neither has many friends or relations to spare. That is until a chance meeting sends Ash into a crash course with a family full of secrets, some that will illuminate his past.

I received an ARC of A Duke in Disguise in exchange for an honest review and have been a fan of Cat Sebastian for a while, so take that into consideration when reading this review. Verity and Ash have a special place in my heart. Both are so earnest and sweet in their own ways, oblivious to the depth of each other’s feelings in a way that makes you want to simultaneously bash their heads together and hug them.

Verity is what I love in a heroine: strong-willed, driven (to the point of distraction), and a bit messy. I particularly love a heroine who has an appetite. In this case, food and sex (and we get some bi rep!). Ash is equally endearing. He is an artist who also has to deal with epilepsy. This features into the story’s plot, but it is handled realistically and doesn’t dominate the narrative. Ash is a softer hero, which I appreciate greatly in romance and is one of the reasons I love Cat Sebastian’s stories. He’s capable, tactful, and warm without being domineering or rude. The side characters, like Aunt Caroline and Roger are some of my favorite characters in this story. I am still hoping for short stories featuring the older characters because I’m a softy and love them as much as Ash does.

Overall, A Duke in Disguise has a wonderfully strong cast filled with characters devoted to each other. If you’re looking for a romance with reluctant nobility, an examination of power dynamics, and lots of wine, cheese, and cranky cats, you’re in for a treat.

A Duke in Disguise comes out April 9th, so grab a copy on Amazon now and have it delivered to your Kindle next week.

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Reading Rec: Any Old Diamonds

KJ Charles revisits the world of her Sins of the Cities series to bring us old favorites and new heroes.

any old diamonds kj charles

Lord Alexander (Alec) wants to get revenge against his father, the Duke of Ilvar, after he neglected and disowned his children and abused first wife in favor of his mistress. To do so, he seeks out a pair of jewel thieves to retrieve the duchess’s new diamond parure which will be displayed at their anniversary party. But getting into the party as a disowned son isn’t easy, so Alec must worm his way into his father’s life with the help of soldier-turned-jewel-thief, Jerry Crozier. Both Jerry and Alec get more than they bargained for by the time they reach the country estate and neither will be the same after.

As a disclaimer, I must state that I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I’m a fan of KJ Charles, which obviously gives me a bit of bias. At first I wasn’t sure if I was going to like this book as much as I did because the connection between Alec and Jerry wasn’t my style at first. I tend to like connections built on commonality and kindness, but in the opening chapters, it’s built more on a semi-distant sub-dom relationship. After a few chapters, we see the relationship shift into something more intimate and comfortable, and that’s really where I began to pick up speed with Any Old Diamonds. In the end, their relationship is warm and balanced in terms of emotional needs, which is something KJ Charles does exceptionally well, especially in relationships built on power dynamics (see her book A Seditious Affair for another fantastically written sub-dom relationship).

Alec is a wonderful reluctant hero. Throughout the story, his hesitance is realistic and sets him apart from other nobleman-hero types who seem to storm into conflict unimpeded by anxiety. Alec also has a profession that plays a role in the story and isn’t just a throwaway detail as it serves a purpose in the story. I stress this because nobility with actual professions in fiction are few and far between. The other characterization aspect I really liked was how Jerry’s backstory isn’t stereotypically tragic. There’s semi-sad reason he got off course in life and ended up becoming a jewel thief, but he’s unrepentant and enjoys his work. I less than noble thief who knows he’s less than noble is refreshing, especially when they aren’t simultaneously rubbing it in the world’s face.

I don’t want to give too much away, but there’s a twist in the book that I didn’t see coming at all that was really good and made total sense afterward. But my favorite part of the narrative was seeing Susan Lazarus from the Sins of the Cities series all grown up show up as a female private detective. She’s an incredibly capable character who doesn’t lose her edge and stands up to the other strong personalities in the story. The next book in the series Gilded Cage will feature Susan and I’m beyond excited to delve into her story. This is one of those stories, where if you’re a fan, everything starts to connect in a giant web, and it’s awesome. Like half her series all come together in this one story, but I’ll leave you to find the other Easter eggs.

Overall, Any Old Diamonds is great combination of a caper story and romance between three rather unlikely heroes. On top of that, the power dynamics off an interesting juxtaposition between hierarchical power and sexual dominance that runs parallel to the personalities of the characters involved.

Grab a copy on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on January 30th.

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Reading Rec: The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein

The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein by Kiersten White reframes Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to show Victor for who he truly is.

dark descent

It’s rare that I read a rewrite or retelling that I truly love, but The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein (to be called TDDoEF from here out) does an absolutely fabulous job of making sense of the original story and tweaking it for a modern audience. I have been a fan of the original Frankenstein since I first read it in high school, but if you’re someone who cheered for the monster rather than Victor, you’ll enjoy TDDoEF.

The story is told from the perspective of Elizabeth Lavenza, a ward of the Frankenstein family and Victor’s eventual angelic wife in the original tale. The novel artfully stitches together the original story with new material to create a new being more twisted and dark than one could have imagined. It rips Victor from his status of hero and elevates poor Elizabeth to something between an anti-hero to a heroine.

What I especially loved about this work was that White interweaves old with new so well, to the point that I often forgot where the old story left off and new information picked up. Using Shelley’s material, she explains why Elizabeth acted more like a puppet than a real person, why the monster was as eloquent as he was, why he and Victor took off to the north in an unending chase. The tragedies from the original story are worked into the new story, and I think it makes more sense than the original Frankenstein. Things that a modern reader struggle with in the Regency original are smoothed over and made sense of in TDDoEF rather than being ignored or glossed over. The original is revealed to be source material from Victor’s journals, where life has been fictionalized and certain exploits left unsaid.

It is wonderfully modern and takes Shelley’s feminism further. After reading The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein, I think Mary Shelley would approve– her mother certainly would have. Besides an extra dose of feminism, it grapples with privilege and how we enable others. It is a fantastic sequel/companion to the original story, and I give Kiersten White kudos for being able to cobble together old and new better than Victor ever could.

Grab a copy of The Dark Descent of Elizabeth Frankenstein here.

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Reading Rec: When the Moon Was Ours

In When the Moon Was Ours, Anna-Marie McLemore once again casts us under her spell and fills our world with pumpkins and roses.

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Miel met Sam the night she magically appeared out of the the town’s fallen water tower. As children, they were inseparable, Honey and Moon, and while Sam hung painted moons all over town to make Miel happy and keep the nightmares of the other children away, Miel became known as the girl who grew roses from her wrist. Every few days I new rose would burst forth, but soon, the town’s it-girls, the Bonner Sisters, believe they need Miel’s roses to keep their powers of enchantment and romance and they will use all of Miel and Sam’s secrets against her to get them.

First off, if you aren’t new to this blog, you know I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s work, so keep that in mind as you read this review.

Now that fall is upon us, When the Moon Was Ours becomes extra atmospheric, evoking all of the hallmarks of fall with bright moons, pumpkins, leaves, and shades of orange. The scenery of this story is lush in detail and magic without becoming overwhelming or too strange. With all of McLemore’s books, you need to be open to magic and strange things happening in the normal world. It’s a hallmark of magical realism I know some have a hard time dealing with. My advice is: magic happens, so don’t question it, just enjoy it.

One of the things I loved about this story is the different ways magic is explored. We have Miel’s caretaker, Aracely, who helps to cure love sickness using traditional means like eggs, herbs, flowers, etc. Then, there’s Sam’s mother who has the uncanny ability to get children to do their lessons and practice their instruments even when they give others a hard time. Sam makes his beautiful moons while Miel grows flowers from her wrist and the four Bonner Sisters ensnare lovers as easily as breathing. Each character has a different magical quality and while some are more overt than others, it’s obvious that each has more going on than meets the eye. This leads to a discussion of who is a considered a bruja. Bruja has a bit of a different connotation than simply saying someone is magical; it’s typically seen as more of an insult or something to be feared. Behind their backs, the Bonner Sisters are referred to as brujas while Miel and Aracely hear it to their faces despite how many people come to Aracely for help with their love lives. The discussion of race is fairly subtle but certainly there.

While this is a story of magic, it is certainly one of identity as well. Miel struggles to remember who she is before she appeared in the water tower while the Bonner Sisters deal with losing their identity after their oldest sister leaves and returns a different person. It is also the story of Sam’s identity. Sam is transgender, but he hasn’t quite come to accept himself and his identity yet, despite identifying as a boy for the majority of his life. Sam fears what it means for him to fully accept that he is a boy/man and not a bacha posh, a Pakistani tradition where a family with no sons dresses a daughter as a boy and treats her as such until she reaches adulthood and returns to being a woman. The arc about coming to terms with a shifting identity was handled incredibly well and McLemore states that the essence of Sam’s character was pulled from her husband’s experiences coming to terms with his identity. The realism behind Sam’s struggles are obvious and well done.

Overall, When the Moon Was Ours is a beautiful story about love and identity wrapped in a blanket of moonlight and pumpkins. If you’re looking for a seasonal tale to sink into for fall, I highly recommend it. You can grab a copy here.

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Reading Rec: Teacher’s Pet Vol. 2

I received an ARC of Teacher’s Pet Volume 2 in exchange for an honest review.

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I want to begin by saying I accepted this ARC because I greatly enjoyed Lee Welch’s novel Salt Magic, Skin Magic, and at the time, I didn’t think about how awkward this might be for me since I’m an adjunct professor. Luckily, this anthology doesn’t contain any underage or just eighteen hanky-panky with an older professor (which I absolutely hate as a literary fiction trope).

One of the things I appreciated about this anthology is that the power dynamics between student and teacher were often discussed, and the teachers were ethical enough to pull back or augment the relationship in order to maintain that balance of power. The other interesting thing about this anthology is the fluidity of the definition teacher. Several were college professors while others were teachers of magic, a yoga instructor, a writing tutor, and a personal trainer.

The bad thing about an anthology is that it is a mixed bag. While I’m now happy to have found a few more authors I would like to read more, there were a few clunkers in the mix. I’ll detail this more in my review on Goodreads later where I’ll write a mini review for each story. My favorite stories tended to be about the nontraditional teachers. Some highlights were “A Spell for Master Vervain” by Lee Welch, “The Silent Treatment” by Elna Holst, and “Shedding Doubt” by Danielle Wayland.

“A Spell for Master Vervain” centers around a rather straight-laced magic student who tries to summon an incubus doppelganger of his teacher and instead accidentally summons his teacher.

“The Silent Treatment” is about a female priest who is forced to go on a yoga retreat by the Vicar to relax and take off the edge of her doom and gloom attitude. Her yoga instructor, Anita, decides to have a little fun with the uptight priest.

“Shedding Doubt” features a young man trying to lose weight and regain his health. After a fall at the gym, he befriends a buff gym rat who decides to help him get in shape. This leads to them becoming more than friends.

As I said, Teacher’s Pet Volume 2 is a mixed bag, but if you’re looking for more queer romance authors, I certainly think it’s worth a go. You can grab a copy here and I will post my microreviews of each story on Goodreads later.

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