NJB Time Travel Edition: The Duchess War by Courtney Milan (Light 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.

If you do end up picking up the book, follow the link below and NJB receives a small percentage of the cost. Thank you so much for helping keep the site running.

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Until next time,

NJB

 

 

Review: A Little Light Mischief (Light spoilers)

Two women sit on a settee. One has brown hair and wears a lilac colored dress and has her hand on the other woman's neck. The other has blond hair and a blue dress and has her hand on the other woman's upper arm. They seem close to kissing.

Hello, its another edition of the “I love everything Cat Sebastian writes, can I clone her so I can have more books faster” review. I’m your host and I have all the feelings.

That’s right, we’re here to review to review ‘A little light mischief’ featuring everyone’s favorite secondary character scamp, Molly Wilkins and the lovely Alice Stapleton. They’re charming and adorable and I love them.

First off, trigger and content warnings. Its pretty light (ha!) on this one, but there is mention of alcoholism, verbal abuse, past economic abuse and an incident where a primary character relates a tale of sexual harassment. It is touched on quickly and I didn’t find it rough, but your mileage may vary.

Now on to the squee! We’ve got our lovely characters, getting to know each other slowly and lovingly over some embroidery and sewing. (I am really all about this trend of more books with fantastic embroidery and sewing, its just lovely.) Little moments and tiny glances and ahh it does my queer heart good to see all those awkward moments of trying to figure out if someone is interested or you’re just hoping they are.

We learn more of Alice’s sad story, which I won’t spoil here, but its decently sad and makes you want to burn the patriarchy. Its a Cat Sebastian book, so that’s pretty standard. But we also get to see more of Molly, who I loved in the books with Jack Turner and Oliver Rivington and its so fun. She’s cheeky, she’s lively, she’s loyal and she wants justice despite the lack of justice in her own life.

They wind a tale, with just a little bit of theft, retribution and a wayward waif or two added in for good measure and wind up with a happily ever after that made me sigh and want to go make hot chocolate and learn to embroider. Except I have no patience.

So I will just to have read lovely books like this again. If you need something light, easy and joyous to fill your heart on a bleak day, I can’t recommend this book enough. Its fast and quick to finish but it lingers in your heart and brings a smile to your face.

I give it a solid 5 out of 5, cause its just perfect, but god I wish it were longer so I wasn’t done already.

If you feel like picking up this beautiful book, follow the link below and NJB will receive a small portion of the cost. Thank you so much for helping support the site!

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Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

*I received an Arc in exchange for an honest review and its mine and you can’t have it.

Review for ‘A Duke in Disguise’ (Spoilers)

A woman in a peach colored historical dress lies back on a couch. She is pale skinned with auburn hair. A man with dark hair in a white, open necked shirt leans over her, with his hand around her waist and her hand on his arm. They are looking into each other's eyes.

First, content and trigger warnings along with spoilers: physical abuse of family members, attempted murder of multiple people, verbal abuse, aggression towards women and threats all committed by the villain of the piece. He’s a horrifying sack of refuse but if this stuff is rough for you, I would be cautious. He gets his comeuppance if that helps to know.  This is mainly at the end of the book and part of the climax and resolution, so there is tons of beautiful fluff before it.

Ok, so if you’ve followed me on Twitter for any length of time, you know of my desperate and all abiding love for Cat Sebastian’s work. When I found out she had a new book coming out, I climbed the walls trying to get an ARC because I have the patience of a border collie waiting for a ball to be thrown. Thankfully, Cat (and her publisher)  took pity on me.

I have no shame about my choices. This book literally made me fill my notebook with three pages of quotes and I can’t even explain my feelings. But I will try.

‘A Duke in Disguise’ hits the blog because it has an amazing bisexual woman who isn’t erased in her relationships and is lovingly forthright about her feelings about her identity. Verity Plum is my new bisexual hero and I will defend her until my last breath. There’s also strong, interesting female side characters who make tough decisions and make it work and Lady Caroline has my respect forever. There’s great discussion about the unequal requirements and losses that can occur in marriage, which I also appreciated.

The main characters are an adorable cinnamon roll of a human man named Ash who reminded me way too much of Steve Rogers in all his bumbling, amazing consent practices and desperate lack of self esteem. He carries hairpins around just to help his love interest keep her hair together and blushes when engraving naughty pictures. He’s just so cute. He wants family so bad and connection so bad, but he’s also so bad at reaching out for it. I just wanted to cuddle him and make him go to therapy.

But the real star of the show is the fabulous, snarky, bisexual and not ashamed in the slightest of it, Verity Plum. She is as advertised, full of truth and ripe with possibility. Also, she is so funny that her dialogue is most of the quotes that I wrote down over my 2nd reading of this book. (Because I had to do a second reading so I could actually articulate my feelings beyond ‘EEEEEEE’).

Verity runs a paper with her brother Nate, who is the sort of lovable, Hamilton-esque dude who has no sense of his own safety and is far too involved in doing the right thing to realize that consequences fall on more than just his shoulders. The paper they own is on this side of sedition but Nate keeps trying to push the envelope while Verity slowly loses her mind in worry. Ash returns to living in their home after his mentor leaves for Italy in the hopes of improving his health and is Verity’s shoulder and rock in this hard time.

The moment I fell in love with this book happened when, during a discussion of her brother’s genius, Verity says that Nate gets to be a genius while she handles the economics of their life and food. Its a stark and lovely indictment of emotional labor by women and about who is allowed to follow their dreams and passions. Nate would be lost without Verity, but I don’t know if even Nate knows that. But Ash sees it and that matters.

Verity…I feel like I could spend an entire blog post just about her. Her experiences with women aren’t erased and they aren’t tangential. Her ex lover appears all over throughout the book and is hugely important in her development and growth. Verity’s so confident and comfortable in her sexual self and its so rare to see. Her bisexuality isn’t for titillation or a male gaze. Its hers and she revels in it.  Somehow, that felt so intensely validating.

Things start coming to a head with a rather unexpected finding of family from Ash’s quarter, some secrets and a spectacular amount of bad communication. There are large hats to prove love, seditious pamphlets as wedding presents and bonding over corpses of villains.

One of my favorite parts that Cat always delivers on is discussion of disparity in class and station in romance. So many romances just hand wave this away, but I can always trust Cat to look these things dead on and ensure her characters find truthful, real ways to navigate the difficulties of the world they live in. Verity knows things will have to change if she marries someone who’s moving so up in the world but she finds a way to stay herself.

In the end, the happily ever after comes around, but it feels authentic and true. Verity and Ash find a way to be together that doesn’t require Verity to become a pretty painted doll or Ash to become some toady to the aristocracy. I won’t spoil any more for you, but read this wonder. Its so worth it and after so many shitty representations of bisexual women in media, it heals something inside me to see such good representation, alongside great consent and realistic relationship building. Even the side characters are lovely and compelling and it helps set up Unmasked by the Marquess so you can know more about Portia Allenby and her family.

5 out of 5 stars and I would sky write quotes on the moon if they would let me.

BUY THIS BOOK! (And if you follow this link, it’ll help support NJB with a small portion of the cost. As always, thank you!)

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Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and no you can’t have it, its mine.

 

 

Review: Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure (Spoilers!)

An older white woman sits in a blue dress with her elbow on her knee and her hand on her face. She looks directly at the camera and is wearing a blue dress. In the background is Big Ben and the Thames.

I am currently supposed to be in bed sleeping, but I just finished this book and am now too wired to sleep because it is soooo goood internet friends!

So here I am to share it with you. Because I locked myself out of twitter like a responsible adult.

First, content and trigger warnings: Accusations and discussion of  rape by a villain against a never met minor character. No graphic details of any kind, but it is named as rape. The villain is an asshole about it as well, but nothing graphic is said. Scarcity of resources, discussions of physical attractiveness and of systemic sexism.

Second, what makes it hit the blog. Its two older women who fall in love. I never see this sort of pairing anywhere, even in fanfiction. Its realistic, its loving, it talks about how ageism means no one sees them anymore and it brings in class and pretty privilege as well. Its a true gem and I do not exaggerate when I say I haven’t read a book like this before.

Ok, now on to the show. First, its Courtney Milan. You know you’re going to love it, cause she’s fantastic. Also, even though there is discussion of assault, she is so fucking lovingly vague about it and it literally is a sentence with no description. This is usually a trigger for me and it wasn’t at all this time. Minorly startling, but it made sense and I was able to move right along.

First, we have the amazing Violetta Beauchamps, a fighter of the first degree, trying to find her way to solvency through Mrs. Martin’s pockets. Mrs. Martin’s nephew (the villain we will soon meet) lives in the boarding house she formerly managed and is a class A jerk who should be shot to the moon, except that wouldn’t be fair to the moon.

So, Violetta tries to show up and get some money out of Mrs. Martin, because her asshole of a boss fires her to deny her the pension she’s earned. So she takes her careful files, finds the relative he asked to stand surety for him and asks her for the money.

The problem is, the asshole forged that signature. But Mrs. Martin takes a shine to Violetta, who seems to be waking her up after a long sleep.

What results is a long series of hijinx, adventures, ludicrous amounts of cheese toasts, atonal choirs serenading assholes and other amazing, lovely occurrences. I won’t spoil them all, because its just so lovely and I want you to experience it all. But if you need a pick me up, especially after the news of one more schmuck messing up the world for everyone, this is the book you need. You’ll laugh, yell, be touched to the core and cheer for this unlikely, amazing pair.

Pick them up. Hold them close. Eat cheese toast with them. They’re here for you and for all of us who are just so tired of not being seen and loved for who we are.

5 out of 5 stars and I love it more than I love toast and that’s saying a lot.

If you feel like picking up this book (along with some toast), follow the link below and your purchase will help support NJB. Thank you so much for your help!

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Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review. I have absolutely no regrets about my decisions.

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.

If you feel like snagging it, follow the link below and your purchase will help support NJB and its future reviews! I thank you from the bottom of my TBR for your help.

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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!

If you want to join in the fun, follow the link below to snag a copy and help support NJB. I thank you from the bottom of my TBR for your support.

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*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.

If you feel like grabbing your own copy, follow the link below and your purchase will help support the blog and my time writing reviews. Its much appreciated. 🙂

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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.