Tag Archives: romance

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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A Preview of The Wolf Witch

WolfWitch_v1

It is 43 days until The Wolf Witch officially releases, but that doesn’t mean it’s too early to post a teaser. This story takes place after the events of Selkie Cove and can be read as a standalone if you don’t mind reading a series out of order. You can pre-order The Wolf Witch on Amazon and have it delivered to your Kindle on the release day. Paperbacks will be forthcoming.


Chapter One: A Wolf and a Pinkerton

Wesley Bisclavret didn’t believe in coincidences. The fact that three gruesome murders had gone unreported in a city like London was the first clue that something was amiss. After Ripper, the press should have been all over it, yet no paper he picked up even mentioned the killings. The second was that they appeared to have been caused by a wolf, and to Wesley’s knowledge, he was the only werewolf in all of Britain and he certainly hadn’t done it. It didn’t take a Pinkerton to realize that someone with some clout had something to hide.

Snuffling along the cobbles, Wesley’s wolf lifted its head at the sound of a steamer chugging down the lane. Its ears flattened in annoyance as it pushed into the hedges again. This is why Wesley never took city assignments. The stench of so much garbage on top of thousands of bodies made it nearly impossible to track anyone, and the racket of banging and thrumming from streets over gave him a headache. Dogs could do it, but he was part man and that made things more difficult. He should have told Les Meutes to shove their assignment, but he needed to prove that he was more than just his father’s son.

The moment the cab passed, the wolf slunk out and shook the grime from its back. At least England didn’t have so many horses. The damn things seemed to know a werewolf from a dog and made a god-awful racket when they got too close. Most of his work took him to the West or up the Mississippi. At least there, he could blend into the shadows even if wolves had long since abandoned those parts for fear of running into humans. In Louisiana, he had grown up stalking bandits with his father and the  rest of the local packs, moving through the trees on silent paws as one. Wolves lived in those parts, bobcats too, but here… Here, there was nothing but the occasional scraggly stray dog and rats that looked as if they ate better than he did. Even their parks were barely more than manicured lawns. It was depressing.

When the streets fell silent, Wesley’s wolf padded down the cobbles and sniffed the air. Cologne. Expensive cologne and fancy food. French, if he wasn’t mistaken. His mouth watered at the heady perfume of beef hanging in the air, but with a shake of its head, the wolf continued on, following the familiar smell lurking beneath it. Its tail flicked as its lips curled into a semblance of a smile. They had him now. Shifting its eyes between the pavement and the road ahead, the wolf followed the smell through the city, ducking into parks or behind iron fences and trees like some feral creature whenever a human shape cut through the nighttime fog.  Trotting across the road to a row of neat red brick houses choked in ivy and with fences sharp as iron pikes, Wesley could taste the slick of paint on his tongue and the stench of flowers that had no business being concentrated into perfume. Dandies, he huffed, curling his lip as the wolf sneezed out the irritating odor.

Wesley’s wolf darted past a house alight with the clamor of a party in full swing, hoping no one spotted him through the window as he picked up the scent in the next shadow. Trailing down the alley between the two houses, his wolf lifted its head. The other wolf was here or had been recently. He was certain of it. As his wolf lifted its leg on the corner of the house, Wesley figured out his next move. Even in his human form, he could smell his way back to the house and confront the man. Squeezing past the garbage littering the back alley, Wesley’s wolf froze. Its mouth watered at the scent, and it instinctively licked its teeth as if it could taste it.

The primal part of the wolf stirred within. Blood, and where there’s blood, there’s flesh.

Shit, Wesley thought as he pushed past the mottled brown and black wolf.

Pain ripped through him as his bones broke with a sickening crunch, stretching until every ligament tore only to reform the moment he feared they would sever. Claws sunk beneath the flesh of his digits as they lengthened to form pink fingers and toes that curled against the war of natures. Fur flattened into skin, which grew and darkened to accommodate his new but all too familiar form. Keeping his head low, he bit back a scream as his face and jaw caved in before rebuilding into a human skull. Wesley staggered forward with his hand on his throat to brace against the bile that rose where a cry should have been. Leaning against the garden wall, Wesley rested his forehead against the cool brick and panted as the final reverberations of the curse passed. It never seemed to get easier. Rain pattered against the skin of his bare back, cooling the crescendo of aggravated nerve endings until he could think again. A shiver passed through him that took his breath away as the wolf curled deep within him. It was times like this that he understood why his brother refused to shift anymore. It hurt like hell even at the best of times.

He rubbed his arms and passed a hand through his chestnut hair until it brushed against the bundle of fabric draped around his neck like a yolk. Pulling the makeshift collar from his throat, he unfurled a pair of trousers and a wrinkled shirt. Somehow seeing a collar around a wolf’s neck gave people pause. The line between pet and predator was thin, and thankfully a collar led to more awkward head pats than gunshots. Quickly dressing and pocketing the leather kit he had hidden within the bundle, Wesley peered into the darkened windows at the back of the house. Through the part in the curtains, he couldn’t see a soul, but the tang of cooling blood was unmistakable. He choked down the saliva pooling in his mouth and focused on the back door. Pulling the picks from the leather pouch, he worked them through each tumbler despite his trembling hands. With a soft snick, the door yielded.

Standing on the threshold, Wesley listened for footsteps but when none came, he closed the door and crept through the back parlor. The servants must have the night off, he thought as he inhaled the familiar scent of furniture polish and something herbaceous. He didn’t know enough to differentiate the plants, but memories of following Grand-père into New Orleans to consult Madam Laveau and the other knowing queens surfaced in the gloom. Their parlors had made his nose itch with the pungent aroma of ground herbs and smoke, but what clung to his senses were the tenuous stirrings of magic. Not quite a smell or a feeling, each remnant was unique to its owner. It’s why the priestesses rarely crossed the werewolves; they could sniff out who had done them wrong. Copper, flesh, and the underlying smell of magic hung heavy as he crossed the dining room. Upstairs, the wolf nudged. Turning the corner, Wesley jolted, a growl rising in his throat at the flash of motion at the end of the hall. His shoulders sagged as he realized it was only his reflection staring back from a gilt mirror.

As he reached the base of the steps, the stench of the other wolf trailed from the door to the shadows of the second floor. It didn’t smell like the wolves back home. They smelled like nature, like leaves and sap clinging to fur. The refuse of the city clung to the other crime scenes: slobber and wet fur overlain with waste and ash. Something was wrong with this one, horribly wrong if the crime scenes were any indication of its character. Thankful for his bare feet, Wesley silently walked up the steps, pushing back the wolf inside him as it rose to flick its tongue out to taste the blood in the air. We’re on duty, he reminded the wolf as the scent grew so powerful he could barely register the other wolf anymore. At the end of the hall, a door stood ajar. Even without the lights on, he could make out papers standing starkly against the carpet and the bookcase tipped over in the struggle, its contents dumped unceremoniously on the floor atop a misshapen, bloody heap. Keeping his eyes on the shelves littering the study, he searched among the clay seals etched with cartouches and the mummies of long-dead creatures. Had it been a thief? The other crime scenes had been ransacked too, but nothing ever appeared to be taken. Not one item on the workbench across the room, littered with jars of dried spices and things so pickled he couldn’t tell if they were plant or animal, seemed out of place.

Glass littered the floor where the victim had dropped a jar of blue powder. Apart from the shelf of books that had overturned in the struggle, nothing appeared to be amiss. Collecting himself, Wesley turned to face the body. Blood soaked into the carpet, spreading away from the broken body where a pale, lined hand peeked out. Wesley tried not to breathe as he pulled the shelf back, cringing as the last of the books clinging to the shelves clattered to the floor. The carpet squished beneath his feet and stained his soles red as he looked down at the white-haired gentleman who lay twisted on the rug. He stared up at nothing, his spectacles cracked and askew, his mouth open in an anguished cry. Wesley made the sign of the cross and shook his head.

Lowering his gaze to the man’s chest, Wesley carefully lifted the lapel of his bloody tweed jacket. The gorge rose in his throat at the sight of his half-eaten liver and the rope of his intestines hanging loose from his body. Bite and claw marks scored his ribs and left what remained of his pink, wiry flesh in shreds. Wesley closed his eyes. It had been the same with the other murders. All the victims had lived in decent neighborhoods, had enough money to be comfortable without attracting attention, and all had been eviscerated. Even the most moon-sick wolf wouldn’t resort to something so abhorrent. This wasn’t simply some mutant hybrid or hot-housed wolf. This was something far more sinister, something without rules or a shred of human decency left. Perhaps the human part was the problem.

Cocking his head, Wesley noticed that between the dead man’s outstretched fingers was a clump of rough black fur. He squatted down and plucked it from his hand, turning it over in the light as he rubbed his fingers over the coarse strands. At home, he could have gone to his father or the other families for help, but here it was just him. There had to be some way he could tip off the authorities without exposing himself. Holding the wad of black fur to his nose, Wesley drew in a deep breath to commit the smell to memory. The wolf rubbed across his mind in agitation, but Wesley ignored it. There had to be some clue as to how the victims were linked. As he rose to his feet, his attention twitched to the door. For a second, he could have sworn he heard—

At the sound of a board whining in the foyer, Wesley sprang over the desk. Standing before it, he yanked at his shirt, sending a button flying, but there was no time. He called to the wolf, and the beast rose within him, bringing forth the stillness of eons past, the scent of wet earth, and the agony of evolution. Wesley’s bones tore and fur shot through his skin like hot needles, but there was no time to recover. Shaking his head, he struggled to free himself from the cloth tangled around his neck. He kicked and shook, glancing toward the door as the muffled tread approached. How stupid could he be? As he pawed the shirt over his nose, a blow hit him squarely in the side. He stumbled into the heavy oaken desk, teeth bared as two men in worn, rough uniforms loomed over him. In their hands were long poles ending in blunt metal spears with a loop dangling beneath them. The closest man pushed the tip of the pole against the flesh of his neck where the fabric collar had once been while the other pinned him by pressing his weapon into the soft flesh of his belly. The wolf snarled, but when the men didn’t retreat, it bit at the pole. As the wolf snapped, the second man lunged forward, hooking a burning chain around his neck.

Spots flashed in their vision as the chain tightened around their throat until they gagged. Wesley wanted to transform, the wolf wanted to escape, but they couldn’t. In that moment, he could see himself as man and wolf, but the fluid bridge between them had been hopelessly tangled. His paws slid against the carpet as he staggered back. Before he could try to slip from the makeshift noose, a woman appeared, her fine features silhouetted in the library’s golden glow. Her silver hair had been pulled back in a tight bun, and while her face had lined with time, her bearing gave no hint of infirmity.

“You are hereby under arrest by order of Her Majesty’s Interceptors for murder and for violating the sovereign laws governing extranormal creatures and for the murder of Alexander Lockwood,” she said, her eyes staring past the wolf to speak to the man within.

Without looking away, she raised a tube the length of a flute to her lips and blew. A hot prick of pain jolted through Wesley’s flank as the first man let go. The metal pole disappeared only to be replaced by the weight of a net. The wolf took a step forward, but before Wesley could attempt to pull the wolf back, a wave of fatigue washed over them. Their legs slid out from under them, and they tipped headfirst into the rug. All thoughts fled from their mind, except the smell of blood and the chain burning deep into their neck. Their eyes flickered and their tongue lolled under the weight of the their binds, but before they could muster the strength to rise again, the world teetered and went black.


You can pre-order The Wolf Witch here or you can grab the rest of the series on Amazon. Book one, The Earl of Brass, is 99 cents for the ebook.

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Reading Rec: A Duke in Disguise

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Rec: Any Old Diamonds

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

any old diamonds kj charles

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Reading Rec: Teacher’s Pet Vol. 2

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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.

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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: 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.

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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: 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: 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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Chapter Six of Dead Magic

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Since Dead Magic will be coming out in a little less than a fortnight, I thought I would share the first few chapters here to whet your appetite for its release on November 10th. Over the next few weeks, I’ll be releasing a few more of the opening chapters. I hope you enjoy!
If you missed it, here are chapter one, chapter two, chapter three, chapter four, and chapter five.

Chapter Six
The Reading

Emmeline wasn’t certain what happened the night before with the book, but she didn’t like its aftereffects. Dressing that morning, she pulled aside the curtain and was pleased to find the road below free of spirits. At breakfast, she quietly picked at her eggs, listening to the sound of her uncle’s newspaper rustle while hoping her tea would begin working on her foggy mind after a restless night. She released a tense breath and tried to think about something other than how much she wanted to close her eyes. To sleep in meant she had to be ill and submit to her aunt’s examination, and that wasn’t something she could stand.

“What are your plans for the day, Emmeline?” Aunt Eliza asked casually, but Emmeline knew it was the beginning of an interrogation if she didn’t approve of the answer.
Pursing her lips, Emmeline fought the urge to spit back an answer that would only cause her allowance to be cut until she was sufficiently miserable. “I’m going to the Spiritualist Society and maybe have lunch or tea with Cassandra if I feel like it. What do you think I’m going to do? She’s the only one I’m allowed with.”
Eliza Hawthorne’s jaw dropped before snapping shut. As she began her usual diatribe on respecting elders, Emmeline’s eyes traveled to the door behind her. The door to her uncle’s laboratory had been constructed to blend into the wainscoting and the damask wallpaper with only the undersized doorknob to betray its camouflage. Normally, she scarcely noticed it, but now it was calling to her. Her aunt’s words died away as she watched the knob, waiting for it to turn. The room grew heavy as if a storm would burst at any moment, and amidst the faint rumblings, it felt as if someone waited on the other side. Her heart pounded in her throat as a voice rose from the threshold. It came as a gravelly whisper, barely audible, but with each hissing syllable, it became clear that it came for her.
I am strong. I decide who I read. No one can harm or speak to me unless I allow it. I am in control, she repeated to herself, walling up her mind against the invader as her mother taught her over a decade ago. When she looked up, the air had cleared and the figure had gone.
Emmeline shook off the energy humming through her. That hadn’t happened since she was a child. She had been so careful to keep her guard up in her uncle’s house. With the basement being used for autopsies and the occasional procedure, it could be a place where spirits who died violently might linger. Rubbing her eyes with her knuckles, Emmeline released a tired sigh. If only her mother was still here, she would know what to do.
“Emmeline, did you hear what I said?”
Looking up, she expected to find her aunt angry, but instead, she found her green eyes softened with concern. “Yes, Aunt Eliza. I’m sorry for being cross with you. I didn’t get much sleep.”
“Why don’t you stay home and rest?”
“No!” she cried a little quicker than she meant to. “No, I’m quite all right. I’m only going to listen to a lecture, nothing taxing.”
Eliza nodded, probing her niece with her doctor’s eye. “If you’re certain, but I will walk you there. Just in case.”
***

Shrugging off her aunt’s arm, Emmeline slipped into the Spiritualist Society, her mind far away as she unpinned her hat and handed it to the maid along with her parasol. She released a huffed breath and smoothed her dark curls in the mirror, which had become frayed in the humidity and were expanding at an alarming rate. She should have brought the book with her. Since leaving the house, its absence nagged at her mind like a bad itch. She couldn’t shake the image of masked bandits tearing her room apart and making off with the book before she could even properly look at it. Part of her wanted nothing more than to return home and make certain it was safe, but that was foolish. It would be fine as long as no one knew about it except her and Cassandra.
“Just the woman I was looking for,” Cassandra called with a smile as she emerged from the hall. “You have a reading to do in ten minutes.”
Emmeline bristled. “Are you joking? I didn’t have anyone scheduled today. Did Nostra do this? I was supposed to be attending Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s lecture. She knew that, and if I miss it, I—”
Grabbing her arm, Cassandra dragged her into the empty front parlor. “Just be quiet and listen. I did it.”
“But why? You knew I wanted to go.”
“Yes, but I think you will like this much better than a lecture on faeries,” she replied with a playful grin as her friend cocked a contrary brow. “It’s your Mr. Talbot.”
“Are you serious? Are you certain it’s him?”
“As certain as I can be. The appointment was made for Nadir and Leona Talbot. That’s his cousin, isn’t it?”
“So she’s taken her maiden name? Hmm. I guess the divorce is finalized.”
“You really need to stop reading the gossip pages.”
“Ugh! And today my hair decides to look dreadful,” Emmeline cried as she broke from her friend, and pawed at her hair in the hearth mirror. “Is he as handsome as the drawings in the papers?”
“Even better. Well, go on. They’re waiting for you upstairs in the Blue Room.” She waited for her friend to move or at least look pleased. “What’s wrong?”
Emmeline stared at her feet before meeting her friend’s tawny eyes. “What if I make a fool of myself?”
“I highly doubt you will ever play the fool.”
At the sound of Cecil Hale’s smooth voice, Emmeline whipped around to find him standing in the doorway watching them with an amused glint in his eyes. Her face and breast flushed at the skim of his gaze over her dark red dress.
“I’ve seen your abilities, Miss Jardine, and you have nothing to worry about.”
“That’s very kind of you, Lord Hale. Will you be going to the lecture?” Emmeline asked, shifting to put her best features in view.
Tilting his head back to reveal his long, graceful neck, he studied the ceiling’s tin tiles. “Actually, I was hoping to sit in on your reading if you don’t mind an audience.”
“I would like that,” she replied, ignoring Cassandra as she rolled her eyes.
With a smile, Emmeline kicked herself for agreeing to do the reading. She hurried up the steps to the Blue Room with Lord Hale at her heels, her heart racing at the thought of having her favorite author and Lord Hale in the same room. It was a dream she didn’t know she wanted to have until now, two men she admired, both watching her, maybe even wanting her. It was like a plot from one of her hidden books.
With a slow breath, she prayed to her mother to help her and opened the door. The room was as hideous as she remembered it with every surface, including the carpet and wallpaper covered in a blue paisley that had faded to periwinkle in the sun. Despite its hideous upholstery, it was her favorite room to work in. There were no tables or cabinets for a medium to hide behind in the Blue Room, and it was there that her powers shined.
Her breath caught in her throat at the sight of Nadir Talbot sitting on the sofa. She had seen etchings from the court case in the newspaper, but somehow, she had never pictured him as a living being. As the door creaked, Nadir rose and turned toward her, revealing a strong nose to match his expressive byzantine eyes and sensual lips. Waves of unfashionably long black hair dusted the shoulders of his fern-green suit, which had been expertly tailored to accentuate his gracile frame. He was as handsome as she had imagined, but as she approached her seat at the head of the circle, she tried to remember to breathe and not look too interested with Lord Hale hanging about. Sitting beside him was his cousin. While she shared his complexion and eyes, Leona Talbot’s expression was somber, dour even, as she stared into her lap. Like a Renaissance Madonna, her features were in the constant war between softness and severity. Upon seeing Emmeline, Leona’s reddened eyes ran appraisingly over her form before returning to her hands with a frown.
Curtsying to the Talbots, Emmeline bit back a smile at Mr. Talbot’s smoldering gaze. She had never expected to be so close to one of her idols. She had followed him through the murder trial, and even if his character was still seen as dubious in many circles, she didn’t take the lack of a conviction in the case to mean he was guilty. As Emmeline took her seat, she noticed how Cecil kept his distance, barely suppressing a sneer at her clients.
“Welcome to the London Spiritualist Society, Mr. Talbot, Ms. Talbot. This is Lord Hale, my associate. And my name is Emmeline Jardine. I’m a spiritualist medium.” At the word medium, Nadir Talbot’s lips twitched into a bemused grin. She knew that smile well; he was a skeptic. Locking eyes with him, she added flatly, “As you can see, my séances don’t involve a table or spirit cabinet. They distract from the experience and are the hallmark of a fraud. So if you’re expecting theatrics, I would suggest you find another medium. Now, who is the reading for or is it a shared relative?”
At her question, Mr. Talbot turned to his cousin. She released a tight sigh and reached into her reticule to retrieve a stack of letters tied in twine, their dark brown seals had cracked and their edges had been worn soft by many hands.
“He wrote these. Is that enough to—?”
“It will do,” Emmeline replied with a smile, but when she reached for the letters, Ms. Talbot hesitated before placing them slowly in her palm. “What is it you want to know?”
Leona Talbot stared past Emmeline as she drew in a long, slow breath. “I’m not certain. I guess I want to know if he’s all right… wherever he is.”
Emmeline nodded. “Now, let’s move closer and hold hands to keep our energy bound within the circle. Mr. Talbot, Lord Hale, please rest your hands on top of mine.”
Emmeline didn’t always tell her clients to join hands, but when it gave her the opportunity to be in contact with two handsome men, she would milk her gifts for all they were worth. Loosely holding the stack of letters she began to clear her mind until she felt the gentle pressure of a hand closing over hers. Nadir Talbot’s fingers were warm against her hand, and if she focused her mind, she could feel the scrape of callouses where he held his pen. Another hand clasped hers. Emmeline shivered at the hum passing beneath Lord Hale’s fingertips.
Closing her eyes, she fought to ignore the gazes of the men beside her and slowed her breathing. The sound of steamer cabs clattering a floor below disappeared and was replaced by the babble of water gurgling somewhere nearby. Emmeline’s nose flooded with the damp of earth and the fragrance of greenery. Opening her mind’s eye, she found massive palm trees rising all around her, turning the sun into panels of stained glass as it shown through their leafy boughs. For a moment, Emmeline thought she had been sent to a tropical forest or an uncivilized island, but as she pushed aside the branches before her, she found that she was encapsulated within a great steel and glass dome. Where had the letters taken her? A few feet ahead, the path curved out of sight into a patch of vines and low, scruffy plants. It was strange not to see the spirit standing before her. Usually, they were ready and waiting for her, but in this spirit’s world, she had no choice but to follow the dirt-dusted bricks into the mist.
As she came around the bend, the foliage peeled back to reveal a square pool framed by soaring white columns and mosaics of nymphs. Sitting at the water’s edge in a burgundy wingback chair was a man with a book. His aquiline nose and sharp grey eyes gave him the quiet ferocity of an eagle, which honed in on Emmeline the moment she stepped into view. Lowering her eyes to his chest, she could make out the faint outline of a ragged hole in his shirt and waistcoat, and as she locked onto his face, the image faltered. The stripes of grey in his hair overtook what was left of the brown, and for a moment, his face appeared wrinkled and pinched.
“What are you doing here?” he demanded, shutting the book and rising from his chair to loom over her.
His eyes sliced into her, lingering on her wild curls before running down her body in a languid line. Emmeline swallowed hard and steeled herself against his intrusive gaze.
“I was sent here to speak to you.”
“Well, I don’t want to talk to the likes of you, so get out.”
Emmeline rolled her eyes. So he was going to be one of those. Most dead were very happy to have a human ear to gab in, but those who tended to be hostile in life continued to hold to old grievances and bad behavior even in the afterlife. People never changed.
“The joke is on you because I can’t leave until you talk with me.” Defiantly meeting her gaze, he turned and headed for his chair, so Emmeline added, “It was Leona Talbot who wanted me to speak to you.”
He stopped mid-step, his eyes losing their edge for a brief moment. “Why?”
“She cares about you and wants to know you’re all right. I don’t know why she would care about a rude old man like you. If you don’t want to talk, I guess I will be going, then. You seem fine to me.”
Emmeline was about to leave the way she came when he called out, his voice less harsh than a moment before, “Leona asked you to check on me? Did she say anything?”
“No. I don’t think she knows what she wants to say. You’re Randall Nash, aren’t you? Her life is quite unsettled right now because of you. Is there anything you want to say to her that would make things better?”
“Tread carefully, little girl, you aren’t nearly as clever as you think you are. Leona was like you once.” Turning his attention to the temple behind him, his eyes locked on a bald spot in the garden. “You can tell her that my plant is in jeopardy, and I want it to be safe again. It’s the earl’s fault. If he hadn’t stuck his—”
Nash’s voice trailed off as he and Emmeline froze at a reverberation traveling through the earth. The water in the pool rippled and danced with a roll of thunder in the distance. The air in the greenhouse grew still, thickening with the taste of rain tainted with the scorch of burnt wood. Emmeline’s heart thundered up her throat as she met Nash’s light grey eyes.
“If you’re doing that, stop. You aren’t going to scare me off.”
Nash raised his gaze to the grey sky that had once been blocked by the greenhouse’s metal beams. Cocking his head, he seemed to listen to something beyond Emmeline’s senses. “They’re coming for you.”
Her pulse throbbed in her neck as another echo of energy passed through the garden and climbed her legs. It was like something out of a nightmare from her childhood. The giant’s heavy footsteps chasing her in his garden. Closing her eyes, Emmeline tried to wrench her mind out of the vision, but every time she opened her eyes, she was still in the spirit world. Oh, god. I’m trapped, she thought.
Emmeline opened her mouth to speak and found herself alone. Nash had disappeared along with the artificial forest. All that remained was hulking and ancient. Before her stood a gravel lane lined with towering yews. They had grown unnaturally tall, twisting in on themselves like a bonsai and contorting into the vague suggestion of faces or beasts. Emmeline’s breath came in icy puffs, roiling through the air before disappearing into the blackness pressing in around her. Something paced at the end of the path, and with each movement, the smell of water and fire grew stronger. The air suffocated her, burning her nose and throat. The thing was drawing closer. Emmeline willed her legs to move, but she stayed rooted in place. Where could she run to? When she had been in the greenhouse, everything had seemed so solid, so real, but now, the ground beneath her seemed only inches thick and would collapse under her at any moment, as tenuous as a puff of squid ink.
A face emerged from the shadows at the end of the lane. Emmeline’s heart pounded in time with the pulse of energy emanating from the creature’s body. It was barely more than the shades it hid within, but as it swept close, searching for her with wide, sightless eyes, she could make out the long face and branched horns of a stag. Where a body and limbs should have been, the darkness churned without forming anything that remotely resembled a body. A dozen skinny tentacles whipped toward Emmeline before sinking into its back, flicking out for a taste of her energy. They’re coming for you.
“What are you?” she yelled, her voice cracking with fear and her body trembling. “Tell me. Tell me what you are!”
Raising her gaze to the hollow points where the creature’s eyes should have been, the breath seeped from her body. There was no humanity in it. The cephalopodic monster had no life in it. Never had it been of her world, and as it fixed its gaze upon her, she could taste its hunger for flesh. Looming over her, it seemed limitless, the energy radiating from its wraith-like body overwhelming. Bile rose in Emmeline’s throat as she turned her head and closed her eyes at the creature’s tentacle skimming along the delicate aperture of her neck. It wanted her.
Emmeline felt the ground beneath her feet. She focused on the softness of it, the vision of it being no more than a shoe-sole thick. As the creature rose to swoop upon her, the ground gave way and she was falling.

 


If you enjoyed what you read, you can pre-order Dead Magic here and have it delivered to your Kindle on November 10th. Paperbacks will also be available closer to the release date.

Stay tuned for more chapters and previews to come.

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