Tag Archives: Book Reviews

Reading Rec: The Craft of Love

The Craft of Love is a sweet novella featuring two artisans falling for each other in early Victorian New York City.

love of craft

When Benjamin Lewis stumbled across some of his mother’s old sewing projects, it dredges up painful memories from his past. Unable to part with the old dresses, he decides to have them transformed into something new: a quilt. Luckily, his lace-making sister knows just the seamstress for the job, Remembrance Quincy. Remembrance is a woman of strong convictions and even stronger skills. At her studio, she and her girls produce pieces for New York’s upper class, but something about the soft-spoken Mr. Lewis catches her attention. He proposes a trade: the quilt from his mother’s dresses for a silver teapot worked by his hands. Soon it’s silver for fabric and craftsman for craftswoman.

Sometimes I really crave a drama-free romance, and The Craft of Love hit the spot. Remembrance is a strong, confident woman who prides herself on her skills and her principles. She’s an abolitionist who practices what she preaches by staying away from goods produced by slaves, like cotton and sugar, and within her own community she tries to give women a voice. Mr. Lewis is also more than what he seems. Some of you may have been curious why I have a male-female romance on my blog when I mostly read LGBT+ romance. Well, Mr. Lewis is transgender, which is revealed early on and isn’t made a big deal over. This is incredibly refreshing as there’s no traumatic reveal or obsessing over the character’s sex. It’s woven in with skill and no muss, which I think speaks to the fact that Ottoman is an own-voice writer.

What I absolutely loved about this novella is how much of early nineteenth century New York City is brought into it. We hear about William Cullen Bryant doing a poetry reading, the New York Botanical Society (and how the city couldn’t care for their plants), and Sunday promenades in the park. It makes for a lush yet familiar atmosphere, especially for someone living in the Tri-State Area like myself.

The other highlight of this book is how Ottoman focuses on the characters’ crafts. The same amount of gravity is given to quilts as to silver-working. Remembrance is seen as someone who is incredibly skilled even if her works bear no maker’s mark or end up in a museum in the twenty-first century with the name anonymous where her name should be. It speaks to a changing tide in how women’s handicrafts are now being taken more seriously and are starting to get the scholarship they deserve. This book took me back to the American Wing of the Metropolitan Museum where silver tankards sit in display cases in the sun, maker’s mark highlighted and explained on a card while sewing and quilts are indoors within their period rooms behind glass, easily missed as one passes down the hall to the pieces of furniture and grand portraits. It’s easy to miss the skill and time needed to make a piece when we have been taught to ignore that craftsmanship. The same can be said for Benjamin’s pieces, which are domestic as well. Do we ever stop and give a teapot its due? Probably not, but after reading The Craft of Love, I know I shall pay more attention.

The Craft of Love comes out Friday, so grab a copy now and have it delivered to your Kindle.

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Reading Rec: The Descent of Monsters

Have you ever read something called silkpunk? An infusion of Asian flare with a punch of magic and technology. If not, you need to get your hands on JY Yang’s Tensorate series beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. In the third book of the series, The Descent of Monsters, Yang takes us further into the world of tensors and strange hybrid creatures.

descent of monsters

Part Jurassic Park, part noir-ish crime story, The Descent of Monsters begins where The Red Threads of Fortune leave off but from the point of view of an investigator charged with figuring out why everyone at the Rewar Teng Institute of Experimental Methods was slaughtered and how a naga raptor hybrid escaped. Told through file entries, diaries, letters, and interrogations, it fleshes out not only the mystery of the murders but what happened to Rider’s twin and how it is tied to the institute.

“Get livid.” The Descent of Monsters begins with a call to arms from its readers. Investigator Chuwan has seen the atrocities the government has not only covered up but sponsored and she wants your rage. This call sets the tone for the story, and it’s one of the things I absolutely love about Chuwan. While most of the characters in the Tensorate series have been very human, Chuwan is at times the most relatable. She is angry and fed up and just wants to get to the bottom of what’s going on, especially since the government put her in charge of the investigation figuring she would cave and sweep the evidence under the rug. WRONG. She has the investigative chops and enough moxie to go against the government.

What I love about this series is the slow building of rebellion. With the first book, we get the inner workings of the government from the view of the children of the ruler. Then from the point of view of exiles, and now, we’re getting bits and pieces from an investigation from the government and a detective going rogue. I look forward to seeing what will happen when the fourth book comes out, and hopefully this interesting progression will continue. This is where I should comment more on the format. There are interrogation scripts, files from the investigation, letters, and Chuwan’s diary/memories. If you don’t like that format, you may not like this book, but Chuwan’s voice is strong and has that no-nonsense detective noir vibe. It’s hard not to picture the scenes in dramatic black and white.

One of the things I love about Yang’s books is how effortlessly they create their world. It’s rich in the sights and textures of Asia while still being infused with futuristic technology and magic. Somehow Yang manages to make them live side-by-side without feeling awkward or mismatched. The magic, or tensing, is intricate yet simple at its heart. It makes for an interesting magical system, especially regarding how different characters interact with the slack (the magic in everything). Within their world, queer characters are commonplace, and there is even a coming-of-age ceremony where children choose their gender and name. Other characters appear as nonbinary and/or non-straight, and there is even a brief discussion of pronouns in Descent of Monsters.

If you wished the latest Star Wars trilogy was even more daring, political, and had cooler creatures, you should check out JY Yang’s Tensorate series, beginning with The Black Tides of Heaven. Grab their latest book, The Descent of Monsters, now.

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Reading Rec: Salt Magic, Skin Magic

I received an ARC of Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch in exchange for an honest review.

saltmag

When Lord Thornby was dragged back to his father’s estate, he never imagined he wouldn’t be able to leave. Fearing his sanity is slipping when he can’t move past a seemingly invisible barrier, Thornby worries he has no chance of escaping until John Blake arrives. Masquerading as a guest, Blake has his own mission, to figure out what witchcraft is going on at the estate. When Thornby realizes Blake is the key to his escape, the men team up to fight the forces at play only to discover Thornby is more than he appears.

In the tradition of writers like Jordan L. Hawk and K. J. Charles, Lee Welch takes us on an adventure of magic, romance, and of course queer characters. Don’t mistake my reference to other authors of queer historical-fantasy as saying Welch’s work isn’t original. The magical system is wholly her own. What I loved about it was how it artfully combined the mystique of Victorian beliefs in faeries and paranormal creatures while also aligning with the heavy industrialism of the era. Magic can come in several ways, through faerie folk, demons, and by utilizing commonplace objects. This comes with a set of preconceived notions involving class and misconceptions about magic due to this rigid structure. The interweaving of these aspects of the Victorian Era keep us grounded in a historical reality while expanding it [logically] to contain magical elements.

Thornby and Blake are charming characters, each determined to find their way out of this magical muddle, and while there is a little friction at first, they quickly become a well-oiled team. They have fantastic chemistry, and more importantly, I loved how quirky they both can be. Thornby seems like an eccentric at first, but as the story progresses, his behavior begins to make more sense. With Blake, he is like Thornby’s foil and offsets his emotional and quirky side with a more utilitarian calm.

My only real quibble with this book was at times I found the romance aspects a bit gratuitous. I know that is a convention of the genre, but even for paranormal romance, it felt like a lot. This may have been because I read the book rather quickly and it only felt compressed. The scenes themselves though are written well and varied in terms of emotional and physical intimacy.

If you’re a fan of noblemen in emotional crisis or magic in a unique form, then Salt Magic, Skin Magic should be moved to the top of your to-be-read pile. Grab a copy here, and congrats to Lee Welch on their new release!

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Reading Rec: Wild Beauty

If you follow me on Patreon, you may have read my post about Bookcon and how Anna-Marie McLemore’s book signing and ARC giveaway was the ONE event I knew I had to attend. I was elated to find a signed copy of Wild Beauty at Bookcon, which I didn’t realize was signed until I got home (bonus!). After reading Wild Beauty, McLemore has been added to my auto-buy list.

wild beauty

For years, the Nomeolvides women have been trapped on the grounds of La Pradera, growing plants from their hands on the forgotten estate of the Briar family. More mysterious than their magical abilities is that if they step off the land, they die a painful death and those the Nomeolvides love go missing, never to return. Then, a boy in antiquated clothing and covered in dirt appears in the garden. Estrella and the other women wonder if he is a blessing from the garden or a warning, but Fel cannot remember where he came from or who he is. Estrella and her cousins must figure out who Fel was and how to escape the grip of La Prader before it’s too late.

I love Anna-Marie McLemore’s style. It’s an ingenious blend of the normal and surreal where magical flower growing women live along side cotton candy and instant mashed potatoes. Her prose is effortless to read, and her world is rich in texture and beauty. Magical realism is hard for some to deal with because of that intermixing of real and unreal, but if you can suspend your disbelief in this pocket of magic, it’s well worth it.

One of the things I worried about with this book was how it had an obvious aesthetic: flowers. What I mean by that is that some authors beat you to death with repetitive imagery and metaphors. While McLemore makes reference to flowers constantly throughout the story, it is done in such a way that it comes off as varied and artful. She capitalizes upon the sheer number of flowers available to utilize in metaphors and combines them with interesting actions and images. One of the other aspects I love that other readers may miss or think is a fault in the writing is how McLemore makes the Nomeolvides women interchangeable for the most part. Each generation there are five women, and they tend to be names without obvious identities apart from the plants they create. I feel this is done purposely and shows how the outside world sees the women versus how they are easily able to tell each other apart.

The story itself speaks to the impact of history on real people and we often try to sanitize or bury our pasts. This feels very relevant with what is going on in America politically. While McLemore doesn’t explicitly state this, readers should be able to see the parallels and understand why we must dredge up the bloody parts of our history in order to learn from them and grow.

I don’t want to give too much away because this book builds layer upon layer until the story truly unfolds at the end, and I don’t want to spoil that. If this review piqued your interest, you can pick up a copy of Wild Beauty on Amazon or at your local bookstore.

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Reading Rec: It Takes Two to Tumble

June is LGBT+ Pride Month! That means LGBT+ book reviews, which means books I probably would have read on my own, but now, I’m making myself review them consistently. *drops voice* You don’t know how little follow-through I have while my house is a construction zone.

Anywho, I am a LGBT+ romance fan, so today’s recommendation is a historical-romance by Cat Sebastian entitled It Takes Two to Tumble.

it takes two

I’m pretty sure my first reaction upon finishing on of Cat Sebastian’s books is “That was so cute! I need more!” Her series are often the kind that follows families, such as in this series where we will follow the Sedgwick family (brothers mostly, it seems), and we begin this series with Benedict Sedgwick, unlikely vicar and free spirit, alongside the solemn, stern Captain Dacre as he comes home from two years at sea.

The Dacre children are hell-spawn. Left to their own devices after the death of their mother, they turn to terrorizing the town while their father is at sea. As a good natured vicar who devotes his energy to bettering his parishioners’ lives, Ben is called upon to wrangle the children into behaving until their father returns. Capt. Dacre reluctantly arrives home, not looking forward to facing the family he feels he abandoned and the house where his father made life miserable. He expects to see his children waiting by the front door as they did when his wife was alive only to find chaos and the vicar at the center of it.

I love the dynamic between Dacre and Ben in It Takes Two to Tumble. They are able to balance each other out without being polarizing. What I mean by that is that both characters have quirks and shortcomings that prevent them from being one-note. They come off as real people with idiosyncrasies, histories, and complications that muddy the waters of their relationships and their abilities to function apart.

On top of this, we have characters who are seemingly dyslexic. I say seemingly because it’s the early 1800s, so it doesn’t have a name, but it’s refreshing to have neuro-divergent characters who are able to work around their struggles without it becoming the core of who the character is. So far, this has been one of my favorite romances this year. Eventually, I will write a post about the importance of romance, and this book will be a core piece of that.

If you like romances where seemingly opposites attract, wayward children run amuck, and not-so-holy vicars come to terms with who they are, then you should check out It Takes Two to Tumble before book two comes out.

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Reading Rec: The Henchmen of Zenda

FYI: I received an ARC of The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles in exchange for an honest review.

henchmen of zenda

I absolutely loved The Henchmen of Zenda by K. J. Charles. If you’re into 1940s swashbuckling films or Victorian pulp fiction, this is for you.

If the title sounds familiar, you may have heard of Anthony Hope’s Victorian novel The Prisoner of Zenda. K. J. Charles originally wrote this story as part of Riptide’s Classics Queered series before Riptide’s ugly racist/prejudiced underbelly was revealed. Now, it is being independently published.

Before I talk more about the story, I need to say that I have never read The Prisoner of Zenda, and I purpose didn’t read it before reading The Henchmen of Zenda. I wanted the book to stand on its own without having my opinion (or mind) polluted by the original. It isn’t necessary to read Hope’s novel in order to understand the story line as Charles masterfully fills in any gaps while poking fun at the original narrator.

What I loved about The Henchmen of Zenda was our narrator, Jasper Detchard, swordsman for hire, Englishman, and a minor villain in the original tale. He tells the tale of how he ends up being roped into Michael’s (the Duke and brother of the legitimate heir) service and became entangled in a power struggle between Michael, Randolph, and Flavia (the princess and cousin of the two brothers). Detchard is utterly unflappable, in control, and sardonic. He’s basically Basil Rathbone in every swashbuckling movie he ever filmed, and he adds a grounding force when set against his foil, Rupert Hentzau.

Ah, Rupert. A young noble looking for adventure, a rogue with a good heart (who would most certainly be played by Errol Flynn), and a thorn in Detchard’s side who eventually grows on him to become something more. Their chemistry grows from sword fighting to sword fighting (*eyebrow waggle*). He’s witty, lively, and more complex than he is given credit for. Together with their ally, Toni (a courtesan turned mistress turned spy turned bad ass), they manage to turn the tides of battle and have a happier ending than would have been possible in a Victorian pulp tale.

The best part of The Henchmen of Zenda is how K. J. Charles was able to turn the original story on its head by turning heroes into villains, villains into heroes, weak women into the power behind the thrown, and yet, it all makes sense! I give her kudos for her ability to engineer a completely new (and better) version of a century old tale. Her take adds a new level of complexity to a pretty problematic story (by modern standards) and giving it a queer and feminist spin.

The Henchmen of Zenda will be out May 15th, so if this review piqued your interest, you can grab a copy here.

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