Review: Band Sinister (Spoilers!)

Three young people stand in a group. One gentleman is wearing a brown frock coat, breeches and short boots, holding a cane and wearing a small hat. Next to him with her hand in his arm is a young woman in a white dress and a large shawl and hat. Her other hand is on the arm of a young man, in breeches and a blue crock coat with blond hair and a hat in his hand. They are all looking in different directions.

As a preamble, you have to know how much I love KJ Charles work. She was the first queer romance author I’d ever read and I am spoiled after her works.

If you’ve read a few of my reviews, you know how much I value good consent, accurate depictions of marginalized peoples in historical era and lovely strange words from the era. With KJ Charles, you get all of that and such great romance. She doesn’t shy away from representing the fullness of the era and the historical accuracy and reality don’t hinder her happily ever afters at all. Rather, they fill them out and make them more glorious and representative.

Content and trigger warnings: Description of an broken bone and the resulting medical care. Not gory, but a little graphic. Description and discussion of parental neglect, slavery, racism and homophobia.

First, what makes this book worthy of a Not Just A Buzzword review: it not only represents a non monogamous group that are healthy and functional with each other, but also black characters whose lives are not tangential or used as a narrative arc for others and who have their own desires. Lastly, a Portugese Jewish doctor, a woman who’s found herself outside of society’s strictures and dealing with period attitudes in amazing and realistic ways.

Is it obvious I loved this?

For main characters, we have the lovely Phillip Rookwood, black sheep of his family, acknowledged bastard (due to his mother’s affair) and all around shameless lover of pleasure and thumbing his nose at society.

On the other side of this happily ever after, we have Guy Frisby, a country gentleman fallen on hard times, who is deeply devoted to his sister Amanda and a classical scholar of some knowledge.

Phillip heads up a select group at his residence, Rookwood Manor, who meet to engage in activities that the current society would deeply disapprove of. Its a source of mystery and gossip in the area. Guy Frisby’s family has a long and complex history with Phillip’s which makes it unlikely for them to ever meet. Until Amanda breaks her leg wandering onto the property for reasons I will let you discover.

Amanda breaks her leg, Guy shows up to take care of her, they can’t move due to the severity of the break and the book really picks up speed here. We meet the lovely Dr. Martelo, a Portugese Jew who has no patience for the barbaric practice of bloodletting in cases of illness or English doctors who care more for propriety than health. He and Amanda are a joy to behold and by no means a tiny side plot of this story. I love his discussions of medical ethics and Amanda’s lively debates with him and everyone else in the house.

Then we have John Raven and Octavio Corvin, Phillip Rookwood’s partners in crime, family and lovers. John Raven is a freed slave who has an equal hold in this relationship and the others’ lives. Also, unlike many books featuring freed slaves, his previous status as a slave is not made the central plot point of his existence, but rather a part of his life. I appreciate it, because so often authors fall into the trap of only seeing a character through their trauma, instead of their wider life. Corvin is an aristocrat who was given John Raven by his father as a child and freed him at 14. Rookwood was sent to live with Corvin’s family at the age of 10, which is how all of them met.

The conversations around how to manage nonmonogamy and learning how this process works for all of them are so glorious. I classify Corvin, Raven and Rookwood as non monogamous because there are examples of when one of the partners has attempted monogamy and it has not been beneficial for them, either individually or as a whole. But it could be seen in a number of ways and my classification is not set in stone by any means.

The relationship between them is one of comfort, safety and love, which definitely goes beyond period definitions of proper relationships, but is beautiful in its space for them all to be themselves. There are other members of the Murder who are mentioned, but they are mostly in monogamous relationships and therefore not caught up in the hijinx as much. Still lovely though.  The triangle (as they occasionally are referred to as) has been together since their teenage years and Phillip hasn’t really wanted to bring anyone into the mix until he meets Guy.

We have a classic trope of innocent and experienced in Guy and Phillip, but I swear my heart grew three sizes at the lovely, explicit consent kept throughout. I might have to go back and reread all those lines, because it legitimately felt healing to read such perfect, non coercive, language around consent said in such a loving way. Phillip’s favorite endearment, beloved, seems to mean something somehow more in my mind.

There’s the required misunderstandings in a romance, hilarious moments and even tree climbing, which is pretty hysterical. Guy and Phillip have a great deal of conversation on many topics, including religion and Latin, which are frankly amazing. I’ve never known Latin could be erotic. Its a vocabulary lesson, at the very least.

Finally, the villain (of sorts) appears and threatens to tear all our lovers apart. They win the day and have some of the cutest proposal scenes in the world and I swear I wanted to shout on a rooftop as this ended. Also, even the villain gets to be told she’s valuable and deserves being cared for. Its a win for everyone. Its a happily ever after that you can believe, that feels true and real and fills your heart with joy.

I give it 5 glorious stars, shining with light and I would give it every star in the sky if I could. Its going to stay on my shelf for comfort reads and I can’t think of a higher recommendation than that.

TL;DR

If you love queer romance with real talk of shame, coming out and learning who you are, alongside glorious consent, fantastic smut and hilarious hijinx, this book is for you.

Until next time,

Not Just A Buzzword

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I am so deliriously happy about reading it. Getting it free didn’t influence me, cause I would have loved this book even if it cost 500 dollars.

Review: Dare to Love a Duke (Spoilers!)

A light brown skinned woman in a vivid blue dress leans back against a blurry backdrop. Her hair is done up high on her head and she wears a large pendant.

So, I’ve enjoyed several of Eva Leigh’s past books (read, devoured and whined incessantly about wanting more) and was ready and raring for her newest. However, it surpassed many of my dreams.

Content and trigger warnings first: some attempts at finding out someone’s secret identity, racism, gossip causing difficulties, different power dynamics between romantic pairing, group sex acts (with full consent of all parties), occasional boundary pushing that is resolved.

This particular series is set in a London that has within it a rather fantastic and adventurous club known as the Orchid Club. It is sultry, sexy and has amazing consent rules built into the club, which is so lovely. Members attend masked and several of her other romances have featured the club in some form. This one however stars the elusive proprietress, previously known only as Amina to the reader.

We’ve seen some inklings of a romance between her and a side character in a previous book and now we get to know what happens. Tom, the newly made Duke, has become slightly obsessed with ‘Amina’. Amina has in turn become intrigued by him, but doesn’t want to open her heart to him partially because this is where she does business and partially because she’s been hurt before.

There’s a large score of hijinx and tropes and one particularly wonderful way of solving the inevitable problem of other people poking their noses in, but I will let you enjoy those to yourself.

The thing that made this worthy of a review here and of my everlasting love is one particular line that struck me. “Understand this. I don’t want or need saving. My life is not perfect, but its mine and I’ll find my way. On my own.” Now, its a traditional strong woman sort of line in some aspects. But its also interesting that earlier in the story, they both acknowledge the power dynamics in their relationship and how complicated things are for them. Most romances involving a Duke and a commoner hand wave this away with ‘true love’ but this book actually addresses it.

Furthermore, Lucia is anxious to keep a hold of her life and isn’t wanting to fling it all away on some promise. She’s not an idiot and she’s also had a plan for her life before Tom blows in. Its a nice change of pace from some romances I’ve read. There’s a sense of choosing to make a life together, despite the difficulties and with that fully known to all parties. Again, good consent throughout this book in many places.

Lucia also has a close knit group of female friends, two of whom are in love and they have a lovely chosen family together. It doesn’t quite pass the Bechdel test, but they do have some conversations about running the club and their own needs. Even Tom’s sister is involved in the whole romance and has some agency about her choices and Tom considers her needs during a particularly tricky situation and asks her opinion! GASP!

Lastly, its an interracial marriage and that part is not thrown aside. There are whispers, there are difficulties, and they are acknowledged. Its a romance, so we don’t spend eons wailing over it, but I’m actually very ok with that. Acknowledging it is sufficient for me, as well as the characters making some real choices about what it costs.

So if you are looking for a fun, slightly angsty, hot, sexy novel that also manages to do a good chunk of things right, look no further than Dare to Love a Duke by Eva Leigh.

5 out of 5 and planning to read it again!

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

Review: An Earl Like You (Spoilers!)

A white woman in a yellow gown with the sleeves pushed off her shoulders stands in front of a tanned white man with his shirt partially off. He is holding her arms and has his lips close to her neck. Their eyes are closed.

Content warnings and trigger warnings: Poor family boundaries, some manipulative behavior, having to set boundaries in new ways, discussion of period typical misogyny and sexism, some unhealthy relationship dynamics that are later resolved. Discussions of attractiveness.

I’ve never written a review about a book involving this particular marginalized group and I’m thrilled to do so today because I am desperately in love with ‘An Earl Like You’ by Caroline Linden.

It does something I’ve not seen in a great deal of romance novels: have a plain heroine who does not magically become pretty when she is loved, but rather is appreciated as she is and for who she is as a person. Also, privileged characters who realize they’ve been misjudging her because of those marginalized identities who come to change their minds and love her for who she is.

I apologize for any errors I make in addressing what is commonly known as pretty privilege as this is a new frontier for my work and would be happy to get any suggestions on improvement from others. The main character is also from a different class than the others, but I want to focus on the pretty privilege aspect of the book.

The basic plot is very much based on a trope. Impoverished high society man inherits from his father, finds out that there is no money at all for what is needed and finds himself in the spot of trying to gamble his way to making his sister’s dowry. Though he does his best, its obviously not a success.

Enter a vaguely unscrupulous businessman, who wants to find a loving, worthy husband for his daughter. He buys up all the young man’s father’s debts and gives him an ultimatum: court his daughter, with love and honor, never telling her why and win back all his debts or possibly go to debtor’s prison.

Now, I almost put this book down, because I was so worried it was going to be another one of those “I hate you until like halfway through the book where I realize I love you but now everything’s a mess” books and those always kind of hurt my soul. But this book surprised me.

One, its heroine is distinctly described as plain. Her significant other comes to find her beautiful, but there’s no magical transformation when she is loved. There’s no 90’s rom com makeover. She is just her lovely self. She’s kind, caring, loves animals and wants to do the best for everyone. She’s shy in some ways, but she also is strong and compassionate.

And it charms our hero. He begins to fall for her slowly over time. He agrees to the arrangement with her father, gets a dowry together for his sister and it all looks good.

Except, of course its not. I won’t spoil all the twists and turns for you, because they are truly delightful. But I will say this. I haven’t been so pleased with a book where a wallflower who no one notices turns into someone everyone notices in years. Because its not about how she has to change to be loved. Its how everyone eventually learns to appreciate how amazing she is.

Also, her father does some messed up things in the course of trying to find her happiness. And not only is there a confrontation about the fact, but there are consequences and reconciliation. I love it! Healthy boundaries and families who love each other and make mistakes. Talking about honesty and good communication in relationships. It made me want to shout my love of this to the skies.

The book is charming, the characters are engrossing, I found myself wanting to yell at Hugh, the hero, over and over through the book in the best possible way. I want to read everything by this author now and I highly recommend you pick this one up as well.

5 out of 5 stars and I’m going to keep this one for recommendations to people about healthy relationships in romance. It warmed my heart to the core.

Until next time,

Not just a buzzword

*I received an ARC for an honest review and I plan to keep this one for all my future happy ending reads.

Review: The Governess Game

A man with no shirt and a woman with her dress partially coming off her shoulders sit on a bed. They are looking into each others eyes. They are both white and have brown hair.

So some of you may know my desperate love for historical fiction, which is only eclipsed by my love for diverse, mildly historically accurate fiction.

Tessa Dare has always provided lovely historical fiction, but I’ve never read one with a part Indigenous, part Spaniard, part American revolutionary character before. Its fun and intriguing.

Content warnings: Discussion of dead mother, orphans, bad caretakers for some part. No physical abuse, but some definitely unkind words.

On one side, we have the lovely Alexandra (who goes by Alex), raised by a ship captain who fell in love with a Mestizo woman in the Philippines. On the other, Chase (who’s real name is Charles) has had a dukedom drop in his lap but wants nothing to do with it or the two random orphans that have come along with it. Or so he says.

We start off with a relatively standard premise. Woman needs job, man needs woman to do job, hi jinx ensue to make this all come together.

Man doesn’t believe he’s worth loving and hides himself in a variety of ways. (I know its spoiler free, so its hard to elaborate). Woman believes he is worth loving.

Two small children are in the picture as the job is being a governess. They are holy terrors and I love them with all of my soul. Their hijinx are incredible and they totally steal the show.

Their relationship with Alexandra is also utterly believable and adorable. She finds ways to makes things work and its actually one of the more heartwarming chosen family fictions I’ve read before. I want there to be a book about those two when they get older, but I want some more of their adventures first.

I think the primary thing I love about this book is its willingness to stare straight at tropes, indulge in them but also occasionally flip them on its head. The amount of times Alexandra makes castles in the sky about how she and Chase could be together and soundly scolds herself for it will resonate with many a reader. Some of the lines are also utterly hysterical.

There’s occasional moments where it feels not quite in period, but they’re not jarring. Occasionally, I wondered “Isn’t someone going to see them fooling around out there?” and “Wow, that’s brave. I would be worried about getting caught.”

But it was thoroughly enjoyable and I devoured it in a full straight read with no breaks. So highly recommended, 4 stars out of 5 and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did!

Til next time,

Notjustabuzzword

*I received this book as an ARC in exchange for an honest review. This did not affect my opinion or my review.

Review: Legacy (Spoilers)

Trigger warnings and content warnings: statutory rape (by the law), large age gap between female MC and male love interest, past death, grief, loss, making poor choices after loss.

Legacy’s premise is interesting with its focus on environmental protests in the 90’s. While I’ve read a bit here and there, I’ve never seen a fictional story set in that time period before. We’re introduced to Allison and her family off the bat, who seem nice if slightly rushed in their description.

Though its a very traditional origin story to have death define a main character, I felt like we had very little time to get to know the main character, Allison, and her brother before he died. His death is very realistic in many ways. Drunk driving deaths with teens are common. But somehow, I wasn’t attached enough to him to have it hurt.

As the story moves, we learn about some of Allison’s poor choices in the light of her brother’s death and her desperate attempts to feel alive. As a therapist, I can definitely say I’ve seen this sort of coping. It feels solid and real, but also brushed over.  I find myself wanting to know more about Allison’s pain, but maybe that’s because I am a therapist by training. Eventually,  we meet Jeff, who she is sort of dating, who is 19.

Now, I know the author has pretty much told us Allison’s making poor choices. But this is statutory rape and a pretty significant age and maturity gap. And its sort of romanticized, cause Jeff in the beginning of the book is the only person who listens to Allison, sees her as a person, etc. I’m relieved that he’s less romanticized as the book goes on but its still uncomfortable in places. He’s also kind of a jerk, in my opinion.

Sage however, is amazing, interesting and a lovely friend to Allison. She’s compelling, a good example of leadership, positive relationships and sharing power. I want more of her story and voice all over this book. Heck, I want her to be the love interest.

“Its not about me. Its about guys and who they are to each other. My body just happens to be in the way.” -Allison

Quotes like these are what kept me reading the book. Allison’s fight with her mother as she leaves the home is pure gold as well.  It felt like finding little gold nuggets in a stream when these moments came. I can tell the author has a clear idea of Allison, her voice and her struggle. I just want it to be less clouded by all the men around her and their needs and wants.

Its actively frustrating at times. You can see such possibility and then we’re yanked back to Jeff and Aaron and men wanting her for her body. Maybe that’s the point, to be annoyed at how Allison is kept back.

Eventually, we see Allison gain control of her agency. Its compelling to see, but all of the other women are side characters or defined in relation to their men. Also, where are the queer characters? Where are the non white characters? I get its the 90’s but we existed too.

If the main love story in this book had been about Sage and Allison eventually realizing they both love each other and can support each other as they do this amazing thing and survive the deaths of people they love, I suspect I would have given 5 stars. But its a book that has such potential, being held back by the fact that the hero and all the other women in the book are made to be planets circling around men.

The ending is somewhat satisfying, but I look forward to the possibilities of Jessica’s next book, as her writing continues to unfold. There are nuggets of brilliance here, waiting to be found. Her main character is so solid. She just needs less getting in her way.

Overall, 3 stars. Its got great moments, but it needs work.

 

Disclaimer: I received an ARC for this review.