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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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The Wolf Witch is Out Today!

banner books to 6

The sixth book in the Ingenious Mechanical Device is out today! You can grab a paperback or ebook copy of THE WOLF WITCH on Amazon here.

Since returning to England from abroad, Emmeline Jardine has managed to get a place of her own, maintain a tenuous truce with her guardians, and celebrate her new found freedom by attending as many parties as she can manage. That is until a man claiming to be her father shows up.
Her father has a problem. Her half-brother, Wesley, has disappeared while investigating possible werewolf sightings, and he needs Emmeline’s help finding him. Emmeline reluctantly agrees only to find there are others interested in Wesley’s plight. When she receives a mysterious invitation to a country estate deep in the woods, Emmeline is shocked to find a familiar face there.
Nadir Talbot, Decadent, writer, and all around nuisance, infuriates her to no end, but Emmeline soon finds he is the only she can turn to as they are thrust into a world of werewolves, monsters, and secrets from her family’s past that threaten to bring the empire to its knees.

Emmeline has done a lot of growing since Dead Magic, so I hope you’ll enjoy reading her story and following her on her journey to discovering who she truly is.

If you pre-ordered a copy, it will be waiting for you on your Kindle, and if you enjoyed THE WOLF WITCH, I hope you will leave an honest review on Amazon or Goodreads. They help small time authors like me a lot in terms of visibility.

I hope you all enjoy THE WOLF WITCH, and I will have news soon on my next project, which involves characters mentioned in THE WOLF WITCH.

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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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2018 Reading Recap

It’s finally 2019, so I can officially say I read 105 works in 2018. I say works because a handful were short stories and some were graphic novels. If you know me, you know I have a thing for spreadsheets and tracking my reading. I have a to-be-read list in my planner and of course, my reading log on Excel. You can grab a copy of my 2019 blank reading log here if you want to track your reading too.

Anywho, so why do I do this? Well, partly to see how long it takes me to read a book, what genres I gravitate toward, and whether I’m reading more books by one group or in a certain form. You can see the entirety of my reading log below. The missing top bar (oops) should say: Title, Series Title, Series #, Author, Gender, Date Started, Date Finished, How Many Days, Page Count, Genre, Format, and Rating out of 5.

2018 reading log 12018 reading log 22018 reading log 32018 reading log 4

So let’s talk about what went down this year. I read a total of 105 books, and of those 105, I read 40 ebooks, 23 graphic novels, 17 hardcovers, 25 paperbacks (65 physical books). I was surprised by how close my physical and digital book numbers were. You still people acting as if ebooks and physical books are in some tug-o-war for readership, and I think that thought is absurd. Most people I know read both formats, and personally, I am more likely to buy a book from an author I don’t know well if it’s cheap or on sale. For the most part, ebooks are what go on sale more often, and then I read those books between classes or during gaps in my day on my phone. It’s a great way to read when you can’t lug around a hardcover or need to read on the sly. I also like that I can make my Kindle app white words on black paper which is easier on my eyes. This reading choice may also have to do with genre because many indie authors (often PoC or LGBT+) or romance authors publish as digital only because it keeps costs down.

In regards to genre, I read an eclectic mix (as always):

20 fantasy, 17 paranormal fantasy, 16 historical-fantasy, 12 historical romance, 5 paranormal romance, 5 urban fantasy, 4 magical realism, 4 nonfiction- history, 3 nonfiction- science, 3 contemporary romance, 2 anthologies (1 LGBT+ romance and 1 LGBT+ YA), 1 horror, 1 space opera, 1 political fiction, 1 Gothic fiction, 1 contemporary sports, 1 afrofuturism, 1 romantic mystery, and 1 autobiography.

When I tell my students I’ll read anything, I mean it. I lean heavily toward the fantastical because, really, who wants to read about real life? Of those works, a good chunk were written by LGBT+ and non-white authors. I’ve been making an effort to read less cis hetero white male writers, and my naturally inclination is to read works by AFAB and female authors. Why? No idea, but that is my preference.  Of the 105 books, 74 were written by female authors, 12 were male, 8 were mixed genders (2 or more authors), 2 were unknown, and 9 were nonbinary. As a point of reference, if an author is transgender, I list them as the gender that aligns with their pronouns (he= male, they/xe/ze, etc.= nonbinary, she= female unless otherwise specified).

One thing I have done recently is to make a conscious effort to read more marginalized authors, especially non-white authors. The reason being is that these authors are less likely to be published by traditional publishers, so if we support them and read their work, publishers are more likely to publish more PoC authors since previous authors have a good track record. As far as I can tell, 41 of 105 were by PoC authors. In 2019, I’m hoping to read even more, especially authors who are PoC and LGBT+.

I’ll be writing up a post on my overall goals for 2019 soon, but my reading goals are: read 100 books and read more works from marginalized authors.

What are your reading goals for 2019?

 

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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.

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: 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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