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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: 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.

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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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