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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.

teachers pet

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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Reading Rec: Band Sinister

Band Sinister by K. J. Charles is a delightful Regency rom-com complete with a motley crew and a touch of the Gothic. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

band sinister

Guy and Amanda Frisby are no stranger to scandal. With a run-away mother and a father who drank himself to death in the aftermath, they have desperately tried to keep their heads down and live a decent life. But that’s quite hard living next door to the Sir Philip Rookwood’s Murder, a hellfire club spoken about in whispers by the locals and attended by notorious libertines. When Amanda goes for ride and breaks her leg on Rookwood land, she ends up nursed back to health in Sir Philip’s estate. Guy fears for his sister’s health and reputation but soon finds the Murder is not what it seems. And the biggest surprise of all is how Sir Philip changes his views on life and love.

I was beyond thrilled to receive an ARC of Band Sinister, especially since Ms. Charles promised a rom-com with a body count of zero. If you’ve read her work, you know how remarkable that is, and better yet, it delivers.

The central romance between Guy and Sir Philip is a slow burn that moves in steps until Guy is comfortable enough with his identity and Sir Philip. Guy is a virgin hero, which is a breath of fresh air in a genre where most characters somehow manage to be exceedingly well-versed in sex. Sir Philip, while seen as a rake by society due to his half-brother’s behavior and his own cultivation of his reputation, is far from that. He is patient, kind, and treats consent as a key aspect of any relationship. There’s a lot of talk in Romancelandia lately regarding consent in romance novels and whether it ruins the aesthetic or slows down the romance. Personally, I think it’s needed. The characters show their ability to grow and communicate and no side is taken advantage of in the process.

Besides the romance, the cast of characters is phenomenal and begs the question, will there be more books in this series? Apart from the Frisbys and Sir Philip, we have two rogues from Philip’s childhood, a musician and composer, a cosmopolitan doctor ahead of his time, and two paleontologists, who I am incredibly intrigued by. Each character is unique and hints at what could potentially be a story of their own (possibly set before this volume takes place).

Band Sinister has a bit for everyone: a hint of the Gothic, a charming romance, handsome rogues, a plucky woman, and a cast of bright intellectuals and rogues.

Band Sinister comes out tomorrow, so grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: A Gentleman Never Keeps Score

Cat Sebastian is one of my favorite romance writers, and her latest novel, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score, delivers a sweet yet poignant story.

gentlman never

As the second book in the Seducing the Sedgwick series, A Gentleman Never Keeps Score follows Hartley Sedgwick, the preening, prissy brother of Ben Sedgwick from It Takes Two to Tumble. Hartley has gone from social butterfly among the ton to pariah after it comes out through the rumor mill that he received his townhouse after an *cough* arrangement *cough* with his now dead godfather. Retreating into his home, Hartley becomes a glorified recluse looking for a way to get back at his godfather and whoever spread the rumor. His plans get thrown for a loop when he meets Sam. Barkeep and ex-boxer, Sam has created a haven in the Free Black community and does all he can to help his patrons. His brother’s girlfriend comes to him with a unique problem. Someone painted a salacious portrait of her when she was a teen and she wants it back before she marries Sam’s brother. The commissioner of the portrait was none other than Hartley’s godfather.

For anyone who says romance is shallow, I would like to point them to Cat Sebastian’s work (among several others I can name off the top of my head). This story not only grapples with the long-lasting scars of sexual abuse but racism/racial profiling, PTSD, the complexities of consent, and the fluidity/rigidity of class in Regency England. There’s a lot that can be unpacked from this novel, but above all else, it’s a satisfying romance between two lovable characters. All of the issues and topics mentioned above are done with an immense amount of sensitivity and obvious research.

Hartley is a popinjay. A preening dandy who uses his clothing and impeccable manners as a shield against the world. He’s been hurt in the past and has a lot of issues to work through, but it makes him feel human and complex. For as onion-like as Hartley is, Sam comes off as a much more even presence. He began life as boxer, like his father before him, and now makes a living running his pub, The Bell, along with his brother. Life is never easy as a black man in London, but he tries to make life a little easier for his patrons and friends. Sam is a wonderful foil for Hartley as he is a calming force while still maintaining a lively air and a realistic range of emotions. I mention this because it is often the calm characters who come off as cut-outs.

Cat Sebastian has once again created a warm-hearted romance that deals with deeply personal issues while leading readers into the next romance featuring Ben and Hartley’s brother Will and a down on his luck nobleman who seems to be having more issues than he’s letting on. If you like historical romances with prickly yet lovable characters, you need to grab a copy of A Gentleman Never Keeps Score.

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Reading Rec: Emergency Contact

There are few books I give five stars to, but this one has made its way to the top of my list for best books of 2018.

emergency contact

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi tells the story of two misfits, Penny and Sam, as they accidentally embark on an unlikely texting friendship. Penny is starting college with a Mary Poppins bag full of supplies and a dream of becoming a writer. Well, that and enjoying an escape from her overly extroverted, overly involved but loving mother, Celeste. Sam’s life is a mess. He’s dealing with his break-up with Lorraine, an Instagram star who was the best and worst thing in his life. When Sam’s life is turned upside down, he runs into Penny, they become emergency contacts– the one person you can always talk to when life is going crazy.

This book… I haven’t enjoyed a book this much in a while, and the main reason I enjoyed it was because the characters were so vulnerable. Because Penny and Sam use texting to communicate rather than face-to-face interaction, they are more open with each other. They talk about their anxieties, their pasts, and their hopes for the future without the judgmental gaze of another person present. The story is written in narrative as well as texting conversations, and I’m sure for some that will be off-putting, especially if you aren’t a texter, but it makes the conversations flow with an easy back and forth and also distinguishes between real life and the screen.

Penny and Sam are awesomely awkward. They aren’t the cool kids on campus or even friends with the cool kids. They’re messed up in their own way and each character is an individual with issues of their own. Choi does a fantastic job of making her young adults very human without turning them into caricatures.

One of my favorite aspects of the book is that it isn’t really a romance but it still kind of is. What I mean is that the story focuses on the platonic friendship between Penny and Sam through most of the book, and a platonic relationship between male and female characters is so rare. There’s a lot of will they, won’t they, but this book is more about human connection and trust than kissing and hook-ups. If you have read this blog before, you know I love romance, but sometimes it’s nice to step away from passion and fire, especially when discussing new adult or young adult stories where love and sex are held on a pedestal over the foundation of a stable relationship, which should ultimately be friendship.

I may be a little biased because my relationship with my partner began much like Penny and Sam’s, but if you like college-age stories with awkwardly charming characters who struggle and grow, then Emergency Contact should be at the top of your to-be-read pile.

You can pick up a copy of Emergency Contact here.

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Reading Rec: The Mystery of Nevermore

It is Pride Month, so I have decided to recommend a bunch of books that have LGBT+ main characters. Today’s book du jour is The Mystery of Nevermore by C.S. Poe, and this review is just in time to pre-order the third installment of this series, entitled “The Mystery of the Moving Image” (which will be out in September).

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Sebastian Snow runs the Emporium antique shop in NYC, and while he enjoys his job, he isn’t enjoying his relationship with a man so far in the closet, he won’t acknowledge their relationship after four years. His world is turned upside down when he finds a heart under the floorboards of his shop. The lead investigator turns out to be the attractive and mysterious Calvin Winter, but Sebastian feels torn between his old relation and the fear of reliving past mistakes. More importantly, a criminal is targeting the local antique shops and reenacting Poe’s most famous and macabre works.

If you like Hallmark Channel’s mystery movies or Murder She Wrote, the Snow & Winter series is like that but with the raunchiness level of a Lifetime movie. There’s definitely a bit of murder mystery cheese going on with this story, but this story is a hybrid between a cozy mystery and a romance novel so it is to be expected. In terms of the gore level, The Mystery of Nevermore has a less is more approach and instead focuses on a Poe-esque/literary inspired atmosphere. If you’re a nerdy English major who enjoys Edgar Allan Poe references, then you’ll probably enjoy the tone of this book.

The main reason I wanted to include this book in my LGBT+ recommendations is due to the representation. Some of you are probably like, yeah, okay, it isn’t like your recs are skewed toward m/m romances anyway, Kara. Wrong type of representation! Sebastian Snow has achromatopsia, which means he is totally colorblind due to his cones (visual receptors in your eyes) not working and in addition has other visual issues, such as light sensitivity and poor eyesight. This medical issue appears throughout the story, affects how Sebastian lives his life, and is not the be-all and end-all of his character! I say all of this because it shows that his disability was written well. In addition, Calvin suffers from PTSD, which is also portrayed in the story but to a lesser extent.

If you like Poe, cozy mysteries, and a steamy romance to round it out, you will enjoy C.S. Poe’s The Mystery of Nevermore. Grab a copy on Amazon before you go.

 

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Reading Rec: All Out

During Pride Month, I have decided to review as many LGBT+ books as I can that I have read recently. The book I’ll be talking about today I actually read in May, but because it was the end of the semester and I’m a professor, I forgot to review it. All Out: The No-Longer-Secret Stories of Queer Teens Throughout the Ages was edited by Saundra Mitchell and contains short stories from seventeen queer authors.

all out

Rather than discuss every story in this anthology, which would take forever and be incredibly boring, I’m just going to talk about a few highlights along with its strengths and weaknesses.

Some of my favorite stories from this anthology are from YA authors I’m already familiar with, including Malinda Lo, Mackenzie Lee, and Anna-Marie McLemore. McLemore’s story, “Roja,” falls in line with her usual tales, magical realism with a Latinx flare. In this case we have a heroine who is a witch trying to save a trans boy, the Wolf, from execution by the government. If you read my review of Blanca & Roja, the stories are completely different despite the similar titles. In “New Year,” Malinda Lo takes us into China Town during Chinese New Year in 1955 where a young woman has her first brush with a lesbian culture and the allure of a forbidden gay club. Mackenzie Lee’s work is always an adorable hoot and “Burnt Umber” is no different. We have gay Dutch painters learning from the masters while trying to master the art of not getting an erection while sketching nude models.

Overall, All Out is a fabulous anthology in terms of sexual/gender diversity and cultural diversity. We have characters from different cultures, races, time periods, etc. There are also characters who are transgender, nonbinary, asexual, bisexual, gay/lesbian, so there is something for nearly everyone. All of the stories were historical fiction due to the theme of the anthology, but the tones of each story are very different, which makes it a fun read.

The downside to an anthology is often the same as the good side: variety. There are some clunkers in All Out as well. “Every Shade of Red” by Elliot Wake was not the most uplifting story, especially when the only transgender character is facing a less than optimistic. The other story that sticks out in my mind as meh is “The Coven” by Kate Scelsa, which features Gertrude Stein but is incredibly dull, especially compared to the other stories in the anthology featuring witches. Often, comparison is what kills some of these stories.

Overall though, All Out would be a great anthology to use in an undergrad LGBT+ literature class, especially since all of the stories are written by queer authors. The sheer variety of sexual and gender identities lends itself to individual discussion of the pieces. Obviously, some stories will be enjoyed or understood more than others, but the tone shifts make this anthology anything but one note.

You can grab a copy of All Out on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: Unfit to Print

June is LGBT+ Pride Month, so I decided to review LGBT+ books for the month. I’m hoping to write 10 reviews this month, so here is number 5: Unfit to Print by K. J. Charles. I received this novella as an ARC, and Unfit to Print will be out July 10th.

unfit to print

Vikram Pandey’s job as a lawyer crusading to better the lives of Indian immigrants living in London brings a case of a missing youth. The only clues are a photograph of the young man in question and that he has been spending time with gentleman, in a manner of speaking. Going door to door on Holywell Street, Vik runs into his best friend from school, Gil Lawless, who now happens to be the proprietor of an illicit bookshop. Together they search for the lost boy and find they share more than memories.

I am a sucker for grumpy, uptight characters. Perhaps it’s because I feel a kinship with them, being an over-wound person myself. Either way, Vikram is one of my favorite characters thus far in K. J. Charles’ world. He is confident, well-versed in the law, a hard-ass of the highest order, and a soft heart. In the other corner, we have salt of the earth, Gil Lawless, seller and writer of unlawful smut who lives in the moment and lives with (note: I didn’t say owned) a cat named Satan. They go together like grape jelly and chili sauce (don’t look at me like that, it makes good sweet and sour sauce). Their dynamic is fabulous, but in the story, I wish there was a little more of them as a couple outside of the missing person search. Unfit to Print is a novella, so there is only a certain amount of space.

The mystery itself is well-written with enough intrigue and violence to keep you turning the page without being convoluted. One of the most interesting aspects of the story is the Victorian pornography angle. Nothing in the story is described in a way to make it overt erotica, which it isn’t, but it’s an interesting topic in that the Victorians had A LOT of porn floating around for such a seemingly morally uptight society. The story touches upon the various avenues through which the Victorians met their sexual needs and the hypocrisy surrounding the industry as well as how vulnerable people fall victim to it.

In terms of representation, this is a win, especially if you have been following the ridiculous comments romance publishers have made about PoC being main characters. Both characters in Unfit to Print are PoC, and the theme of identity and what it means to be a first-generation immigrant are discussed in the story.

If this review tickles your fancy, you can pre-order Unfit to Print now.

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Reading Rec: Blanca & Roja

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would read and review books written by and about LGBT+ people. I finished several books over the past week while the house was being torn apart (and still is), so expect a few more reviews to come your way this week.

Today’s review is of Blanca & Roja by Anna-Marie McLemore, which won’t be out until October. I received this book as an ARC at Bookcon (you can read more about Bookcon on my Patreon), but I couldn’t help but read it as soon as I got home.

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Blanca & Roja follows the tale of two sisters at the mercy of a family legacy where one of each pair of del Cisnes girls are taken by the swans. Blanca is fair and sweet while Roja is headstrong with hair so red it’s nearly black. Blanca and Roja do their best to trick the swans into giving them more time by trying to act the same to make it harder for the swans to pick which sister to take. Intertwined with their story is the tale of two friends who give themselves to the forest to escape their lives. Blanca & Roja is a riff on Swan Lake as well as Snow White & Rose Red.

What I loved about Blanca & Roja was how the story was aware that they were repeating history through the archetypal tales mentioned above. The fact that the characters are aware makes the story a little more interesting than most retellings. The style of the story is less fantasy and more magical realism. I feel the need to point this out because it begins more like a fairy tale and then suddenly there are cars and school. My rule of thumb for magical realism is to just roll with the weirdness. Swans steal girls in this world and turn them into swans. Take that as fact and move on. Stylistically, McLemore’s work is similar to Louise Erdrich and Maggie Stiefvater but with a queer, Latinx flare.

Her characters are archetypal yet realistic, and her worlds are full of lush texture and greenery. McLemore is a master of magical realism, making it easy to suspend disbelief long enough to sink into the world of her characters. Within that world, the characters are diverse and complex. Being a self-described queer Latinx, she makes certain to include characters of varying sexual and gender identity. These identities flow seamlessly into the work and are taken in stride by the characters without making a big to-do about it.

My only issue with Blanca & Roja has more to do with the back blurb’s representation of the characters versus how they are in the story. The blurb feels too simplistic and polarizing and does a disservice to the characters, especially Roja.

If you’re looking for a rich magical world hidden within our own with characters who are diverse and complex, you should pre-order Blanca & Roja before it comes out October 9th.

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Reading Rec: My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1

Since June is LGBT+ Pride Month, I decided that I would review books by and about LGBT+ people. Today’s recommendation will be another graphic novel, but unlike The Prince and the Dressmaker, My Solo Diary Exchange Vol. 1 by Nagata Kabi is autobiographical.

my solo

If you follow me on Goodreads, you may have seen my review on the preceding volume, My Lesbian Experience with Loneliness. My Solo Diary Exchange picks up pretty much where that book left off. We find Nagata Kabi struggling to become a functional adult– at least to society’s standards. Despite the seemingly sexual/sensual nature of the cover, this volume focuses less on the queer aspect of her life and more with the vulnerabilities and trials she faces in owning her mistakes and growing from them.

What I love about Nagata Kabi’s work is how she never shies away from painful or messy topics. Numerous shades of depression and anxiety are explored in her work, and we get to see the progress she has made since her first book. Unlike many other mental illness-focused autobiographies, we aren’t presented with a nice tidy life by the end of the book. Nagata Kabi draws herself as disheveled, tired, depressed, and frankly, a hot mess. She is unforgiving in her characterization. That styles carries through into her art style, which mimics the mental chaos with fast, scratchy strokes that obscure her sparse forms. Counterbalancing the darkness are flashes of pink, which lighten the tone and remind the reader that she is a woman and this work centers around a woman who loves women.

Her work is poignant and incredibly relatable (especially to many Millenials, myself included) as she struggles to assert her independence from her parents while working through something akin to separation anxiety, depression, and coming to terms with the fact that love isn’t always unconditional or reciprocated.

If this review piqued your interest, grab a copy on Amazon.

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Reading Rec: The Prince and the Dressmaker

It’s June, which means it’s LGBT+ Pride Month. I decided that my June reviews will focus on LGBT+ fiction I’ve read lately. This really isn’t a stretch for me since 75% of what I read has queer characters and was probably written by a queer author.

My first recommendation is a wonderful graphic novel I picked up at Bookcon last Sunday called The Prince and the Dressmaker by Jen Wang.

princedressmaker

The story centers around Frances, a young dressmaker hoping to one day become an independent designer, and Sebastian, the prince of Belgium who is harboring a secret: he likes to wear dresses. After Frances creates a daring ensemble for a noblewoman’s daughter (much to the chagrin of society), Sebastian sends his valet to hire Frances to be his personal designer. Unfortunately, Sebastian isn’t quite out about his penchant for dresses because he fears his family (and his country’s) disapproval. Instead, he dons his new wardrobe and goes out on the town as Lady Crystallia, who soon turns into a fashion icon.

This book is absolutely adorable. Frances and Sebastian are warm and sweet and fragile. They remind the reader of that time when many of us weren’t sure where we fit into the grand spectrum of life and gender/sexuality. It’s written in such a way that the story and themes are easy enough for middle grade readers to understand without being patronizing or dull for adult readers. Honestly, I gobbled this book up in about two hours and couldn’t put it down even though I should have turned in for the night. This was due to the sensitivity with which this story was written while at the same time crushing the characters with doses of reality.

What really sells the book though is the artwork. Every page is beautifully rendered in detail and full color. The clothing is lush and textured and the backdrops scream of a Moulin Rouge era Paris. The art style is somewhat akin to what’s seen on Steven Universe but more realistic. The story itself is purposely anachronistic yet retains the historical charms of the early twentieth century.

If you like the daring costumes of RuPaul’s Drag Race and Lady Gaga, queer historical-fantasy, and beautifully rendered graphic novels, then The Prince and the Dressmaker is for you.

Grab a copy on Amazon on your way out.

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