NJB Time Machine Review: How to Catch a Queen by Alyssa Cole (Spoilers)

Welcome back to NJB, or as it may come to be known, the unofficial intense fan club of Alyssa Cole and everything she writes. I am here to talk about the magic that is “How to Catch a Queen” and also have “How to Find a Princess” on the list for an upcoming review and I am so pumped!!!

Ok, so first things first: content and trigger warnings. Toxic family dynamics, isolation tactics used against an MC, sexism, toxic masculinity, deceit, loss of parental figures, abandonment off page, death of parental figure on page and descriptions of vomit.

Now on to the show!

If you’ve read any of my past Alyssa Cole Royals reviews, you know I love this series to bits. But I have to say, this book blows all my past expectations out of the water. I hoarded each chapter, only wanting to read when I could be fully immersed. I took notes as I read of all the bits I loved and pondered tweeting them cause I just wanted to share the sheer joy of this book.

Shanti, one of our main characters, is a tornado of determined, passionate, femme energy. I fell in love with her from the word go. You may remember her from cameos in Cole’s previous Reluctant Royals books. Her match in this book is Sanyu, king of Njaza. You may remember him from a distinct desire to possibly punt him due to him not eating his wife’s food after an advisor deemed it insufficient while Johan and Nya were visiting the country. (I had stabby feelings. You may have too.)

I will admit, I was slightly worried at how Alyssa was going to get into Sanyu. I was preeeetttyyy firmly in the “fire him from a cannon front” prior to this book. But I shouldn’t have doubted. Sanyu’s perspective is so open and compelling and powerful for folks who have lived in the shadows of powerful parents and have complicated relationships with them.

By the first few chapters, all of my anger and hate for Sanyu had transmitted to Musoke, his advisor and parental figure. Somewhere around the part where Sanyu tells the story of being forced to stab his blanket with a spear, I was ready to call for Musoke’s head.

However, I was drawn back in to the fun with amazing jokes, hilarious text message threads between royals, a highly inventive and hilarious RoyalMatch.com representative (oh my god she’s getting her own book, i am so excited) and some impressive discussions on how to create a healthy relationship for folks who don’t have good examples in their family.

Truly, this book is a gift. Huge range, amazing characters, realistic relationship problems, people learning how to communicate, second chance romances, learning how to set boundaries and talk with your family and amazing mental health representation. These things are why these books are the gold standard for me of how you write books on royals without falling into the same old pitfalls. To see African royalty climbing out of colonial legacies and finding their own way is a beautiful vision of how things could be. To see two people finding a way to make a relationship that works for them and fits them is also amazingly beautiful. And lastly, to see an author deal meaningfully with the complexities of family of origin and trauma and loss fills my heart with joy. I won’t spoil anymore, but go read this. You won’t regret it and then I will have someone else to squee with on twitter about this.

But until next time,

NJB

p.s. I didn’t receive an arc for this book, cause 2020 was wild, but I decided to review it anyway cause Alyssa’s work is fantastic.

Review: Binding Shadows (Minor Spoilers)

A brown skinned woman is held by a brown skinned man with his arm around her, holding her from the back. A wolf howls in the background.

Its another wintery day here at NJB and we’ve got a lovely treat for you, a review of ‘Binding Shadows’ by Jasmine Silvera! But first, as always.

Content warnings/trigger warnings: violent death of secondary character on page, sexual harassment of main character, misogyny, rape culture, viscera of animals described, deception between main characters about their pasts, some power imbalance at the beginning of the romantic arc, but resolved. As always if you have questions, please feel free to reach out to me here or on Twitter for more information on content.

We’ve got some amazing tropes to play with to start the book off and it was part of why I snatched it up. Its also so amazing to meet new diverse voices, especially in paranormal romance.

Binding Shadows has two main characters, the lovely Barbara and her counterpart, Tobias. Barbara is a witch who grew up without teaching for the most part and views her powers as a small ‘grace’ that she can do in limited spurts. Tobias grew up in a family of werewolves, but had a less than pleasant introduction to the wonders of growing fur and fights his nature with all his might.

They meet in the university where they both work. Barbara however is being stymied in moving forward in her career after an unwanted advance from a senior faculty member gets her labeled as ‘difficult’ and sees her career slowly swirling down the drain. Tobias enters the picture as the new faculty member who everyone is a little afraid of with his terse words and brusk demeanor (that our readers eventually learn covers his stutter). They spark together instantly, but its a complicated situation, especially after Tobias learns of her skills at research and taps her to work on his team.

I have to say, the author handles the power dynamic imbalance that occurs beautifully. I was super worried when I began that part but she found a way through that thorny mess that helped me breathe easy. I won’t spoil how, but fear not, its not as bad as it looks when you get there.

They navigate the world of academia with all of its politics and in and out groups well, while also slowly becoming more and more interested in each other. However, they both have their secrets to keep and this world is not a kind one for magical people. Its ruled by necromancers who keep a rather tight grip on any other magical activity and hunt down other magical individuals.

The romance continues, with a memorable hotel stay with only one bed, a beautiful backless velvet dress (the description made the costumer inside me die in the best way), some thrilling heroics and close misses and a distinct love of old books and history that pervades the whole piece. The librarian part of me was very pleased.

Its a true romance, with a HEA and a lot of sweet moments. I loved the scenes with Tobias’s family and can’t wait to see more of them and his brothers in the next books. I can see some of the dynamics already. His mother particularly really crept into my heart and found a space to stay. Her desire to protect her boys while also knowing her own strengths hit home and her feelings about being a witch who’d made a home on soil her ancestors hadn’t grown from really resonated with the diaspora part of me. I also loved the choice of Prague as a setting and the author’s clear research and enjoyment of the space. Having been there once in college, I found myself enjoying all the little details and tidbits.

My biggest complaint is that I felt the story occasionally wandered a bit or felt like it took a while to get where it was going. I also wanted more concrete detail on the necromancers and how they interacted within the world. I can feel the edges of great world building but I definitely wanted more.

All in all, a great first book in a series and I will definitely be looking for the next two. Here’s to more great works!

All the best,

NJB

p.s. I received a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

NJB Time Travel Edition: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan (Spoilers!)

A light skinned woman in a large red dress stands with her back to the viewer and her face in profile. She has brown hair and a spray of pink flowers in her hair.

So its been a wild week in Romancelandia, but my patrons choose this amazing book for our next Time Travel review, so let’s jump into the magic that is Courtney Milan’s first published book in the Brothers Sinister series!

Trigger warnings and content warnings: family estrangement, reference to rape of secondary character, misogyny directed towards main character by secondary character, reference to memories of being attacked by a mob of people, period typical sexism and classism. 

Wilhemina Pursling (not her real name) looks to the outside world like a quiet, spinster in waiting, who’s hoping against hope for an offer from some man so she can live a life of relative comfort and obscurity. However, she has a complex and dangerous secret and she’s not interested in catching anyone’s eye in case its found out.

Enter Robert Blaisdell, the 9th Duke of Clermont (but you can call him Robert). They meet hilariously in a library behind a set of curtains and a davenport when they are both hiding for different reasons and he can’t quite seem to take his eyes off Minnie.

But Minnie’s past is catching up with her and she has no time for the Duke of Clermont or his conversation. She needs safety and security, not men who tell her to look them in the eye. Even if she’s very much into the outwardly confident and attractive Duke of Clermont.

I won’t go into more detail about how things progress, cause its such a stunning book and the love story is so real and believable. I love how Minnie and Robert handle their insecurities, difficulties and pasts with so much grace and reality. There’s no shoving down or repressing to make it work. Robert and Minnie’s difficulties are managed and seen.¬†Courtney does a great job writing PTSD and anxiety representation. Minnie and Robert care for each other along with their difficulties, not in spite of them.

One of the things I also love about this book is the banter, the wit and the push and pull between the two main characters. It never feels like someone is losing, but rather that they are playing a game together and relishing the feeling of having someone match them.

Lastly, Minnie has a facial scar that doesn’t get washed away, diminished or transformed. Its just part of her and Robert accepts it as part of her. There’s no need to try to change it or hide it. I appreciated this, because it seems like so many romances try to make things like this magically disappear. It seemed like another push back on pretty privilege and I’ve been looking to find more works like that in romance.

So if you are looking for a book about two people who’ve given up on love and been knocked around by the world finding each other and making it work, I can’t recommend The Duchess War enough. Its a frequent reread for me and I hope it’ll end up on your shelf as one too.

Until next time,

NJB

NJB Time Travel Edition Review: Wanted, A Gentleman by K.J. Charles (Spoilers!)

A black man in a cravat and blue fitted coat poses with a cane on a country road. His face appears serious and he looks directly at the viewer.

Its time for a spin in our lovely NJB time travel machine! Today, we’re going back to visit a gorgeous book. ‘Wanted, a Gentleman’ is one of the first K.J. Charles books I ever read and it definitely filled my soul with love for it, because of its commitment to diverse characters, A+ character development and its tendency to make me write all the quotes down, cause they are just so damn good.

But first, content/trigger warnings: racism, discussion of slavery, internalized homophobia, mentions of physical violence, discussion of marital rape, extortion, planned physical violence towards a MC with consent of all parties.

Some historical books try to run away from the realities of slavery and emancipation while doing romance. But K.J. Charles always looks straight at the difficult moments, without flinching and without marinating in them to an extent that feels overdone. Martin St. Vincent is a freed black gay man, living in London, doing a favor for the family who previously owned him. Theodore Swann is a white gay man who makes his living by publishing novels (which he claims are bad, but aren’t really that bad) and by running a small newspaper where individuals can advertise for romantic connections.

The only child of the family has been carrying on a love affair with someone via letters and using Theodore’s newspaper and thus we have our meet cute.

Theodore is a charming, desperately frustrating, scamp of a human, trying to get out from under the yoke of a particularly awful debt. Martin is a decent, caring man who wants to do this favor for the family that formerly owned him because it puts them on more of an equal playing field and because of some complex internal feelings about debt he was towards them, as well as caring for the young child he once knew.

Through a series of hilarious and realistic methods, they end up in a coach together, hurtling towards the Scottish border in an attempt to stop a hasty wedding. On the way, Theodore learns a great deal about being a black man in England (the stares, the suspicion, the moments when people assume a thousand things about you) while Martin learns a great deal about inconvenient lust. They cascade together eventually, with a great deal of snark and awkward moments.

Its just so god damn believable. Some of their interactions are so real and hit right in the heart. Moments when Martin corrects something so simple about what Theodore is assuming and Theodore takes it to heart. Moments when they realize both how little they know each other and yet how much they want to. It hits me, right in the chest, every time with this book.

Because the book doesn’t assume that everything is hunky dory since Martin is free, nor does it focus on the micro aggressions of strangers around him. Instead, it focuses on the real and complex moments between him and someone he’s coming to care for, who is trying to do and say the right thing and inevitably messes it up. And as someone with a marginalized identity who loves others with different intersections, this is exactly how it goes. You never know how bad your blindspots are til you slam right into them. The most important thing you learn is how to apologize and own it right.

And Theodore learns and does it well. Its part of why they work together, along with a thousand other things.

I won’t spoil the twists, turns and loveliness of the later part of the book for you. I could talk about this book for far too long, but just know that if you need:

-hope on a bad day

-two people trying to figure out how to open their hearts to each other

-hijinx

-great dialogue

Then you need look no further than ‘Wanted, a Gentleman’. I give it five stars and it lives in my frequent reread shelf, which is the highest honor I can give anything.

Until our next time travel edition,

Not Just a Buzzword