Review: Ink in the Blood (Spoilers!)

So this was a long awaited book for me, cause tattoos and magic? Plus a queer friendly world? Sign me up!

However, before we delve in, I have to give you the trigger and content warnings cause holy hand grenade Batman, this book has a lot of them.

Content and Trigger warnings: torture, murder, blackmail, systemic oppression, self mutilation, alcoholism, family abandonment, body possession, children being sold into religious based slavery and supernatural haunting. I sincerely recommend a warm blanket and a good friend on speed dial if any of these things hit your brain in a rough way, cause this book is graphic in its description in places. 

Also, for those coming from Romancelandia, I will warn that this book, in my opinion, does not have a HEA or a HFN. Its one of my biggest gripes about the book and part of why my rating is lower.

Now on to the meat of the book.

The setting is super interesting, based in a world with a religion based on a child who had the power to create magical tattoos that helped guide people and make decisions. However, the child is (spoiler alert) murdered in said legend of the beginning of the faith. She eventually returns, but its complicated, as you can find out in the book.

What is left behind is a huge chest of magical ink and small children are ‘called’ into the service of this faith at a very young age by the presence of a tattoo.

Unfortunately, as we look further into the system and meet our main characters, Celia and Anya, we discover that this system is distinctly crooked and exploitative. There is little to no chance to escape and extensive torture of the children and teens for any possible infraction.

I won’t lie, I almost stopped reading at some of these places.

Frankly, it got a bit much for me. At certain points, it almost felt as if it was trying to keep being as shocking as possible and didn’t seem to serve as much of a narrative purpose. I get proving that this temple and the faith are totally horrible, but after a bit it felt overdone.

But we move on as our main characters escape, through a series of cunning maneuvers. They join up with a local circus troupe and find their found family. This piece was some of my favorite parts of the book. Lots of trying to learn how to trust others, be with people and dealing with trauma and the realness of having to keep a secret when you want to share with people you care about. Tons of fascinating characters as well and amazing found family vibes as well as queer finding yourself vibes.

I could have read a whole book about just the circus troupe.

However, their safe place becomes compromised and our two main characters become embroiled in a conflict that takes over the rest of the book and segways into the second. I won’t spoil this portion for you, as its a fairly significant part of the book.

Though this book has such incredible potential, I found myself disappointed. The gratuitous nature of the pain inflicted on the main characters and side characters really put me off at times. Maybe its because of 2020 or just life in general, but I’m so tired of seeing characters tortured to prove…something? How bad a place is? I don’t know.

Also, the queer and gender affirming stuff I had been sold on the cover? Sadly seemed somewhat perfunctory and only seemed to exist in the beginning part of the book. The friendship between Celia and Anya periodically seems like it might verge into a love story but never manages to make it there. The love story that does play out has major enemies to lovers vibes and is pretty interesting, but I wish we could have had less sidelining of Anya.

Gender wise, there are aura like creations called tenors that are part of how people read each other’s gender. However, most characters appear to be along the cisgender spectrum and minus one character, no one is shown as having a nonbinary or mixed tenor presentations.

Lastly, the ending. I won’t spoil it, but I will say that I found myself upset that what felt like the potential for a HEA or HFN is pulled out from under the reader’s feet at the last possible second to make room for a sequel. I felt cheated. All that pain, all that struggle and such a huge, intense final fight against the main villain with loss and intense feeling only for things to be unresolved at the very last second.

For that reason, though I love parts of this book, I’ve given it 3.5 stars. Such potential but it didn’t deliver how I hoped.

Your mileage might vary, especially if you like intense angst. And as always, I received a free copy of this book in exchange for writing an honest review.

 

Review: The Good Luck Girls (Spoilers!)

A black woman with natural hair stands in profile to the viewer. The skin on her neck and creeping up to her cheek has a difference in color from the rest of her skin. She is wearing a leather jacket, a bandana and a bandolier. Presumably pants as well.

This book’s a bit out of the ordinary for me, being more fantasy and action than pure romance, but its so fantastic I definitely had to review it. A note that this one’s content and trigger warnings are a little harder and more intense than my usual fare.

Content and trigger warnings: Attempted rape described on the page, telepathic intrusion, physical assault, murder, auctioning off of people’s first sexual experience, trauma, near death experiences, death of secondary character, description of traumatic event involving a gun, MC and SC’s dealing with traumatic experiences. The overall feel and intensity of violence is that of a Western, but with more described violence against women. The main character has distinct flashback experiences and disassociative like episodes due to trauma. 

Ok, so this book is not your average bear, either for this review site or in general. But oh my god, its such a beautiful breath of fresh air, both in fantasy, world building and in amazing survivor works. The core crew of this book is survivors of assault in one way or another and watching them band together and fight their way to freedom was cathartic and gorgeous.

The rough plot is this: in this particular universe, the equivalent of the ‘Wild West’ was settled by two groups of people, fairbloods and dustbloods. Dustbloods have in some way traded away their shadow in the past and have a legacy of being defined in this way. In this universe, sometimes girls who are part of families who are deeply poor are sold to brothels and become known as Good Luck Girls. They are kept by these houses until around 16 and then become sex workers, with their first sexual experience being auctioned off to local wealthy individuals in town.

Good Luck Girls are tattooed with a magical tattoo that blooms as they move towards puberty, which they are unable to cover without immense pain over time. When the tattoo reaches maturation, that’s when their first night is auctioned off.

I will not lie, the first quarter of this book is pretty massively trigger filled for survivors of sexual assault. It gets better, but its part of why I want to definitely stress the warning. 

Aster and her sister Clementine were sold to the Good Luck House several years ago. Aster’s already moved to working as a ‘Sunset Girl’, the term used for a person whose services are being sold by the house. Clementine is just about to go through her first night, after being auctioned off to a local big shot. A series of events which I won’t spoil for you (but can provide via DM if you are concerned about triggers) has them and several other Good Luck Girls on the run from the house, chasing the possibility of freedom.

Along the way, they meet up with the lovely and enterprising Zee, who works as a guide through the area known as the Scar and helps them find their way to the best possibility they have for freedom. There’s bank robberies, discussions about vengeance, learning about each other along the way and tons of revelations about life, each other and trust.

Mostly what I love about the book though is the camaraderie between the whole crew, how they stick together and the real and intense look at how survivors can band together to help each other out. Its inspiring, lovely and real. There’s a lot in here about healing as well and learning how to deal with the parts of trauma that stick with you.

So if you’re looking for a book that makes you want to cheer as people try to have healthy relationships in the wake of trauma and learn how to cope, as well as be one heck of a thrilling ride straight to the end, I’d highly recommend this book.

I give it 4 stars, not because of problems with the writing but because some of the setting bits could have used some more fleshing out and there were times the fantasy bits felt thin in places. I still don’t entirely understand what dustblood means and it felt like something that disappeared as the book went on. Also, though there is some discussion of how one secondary character is from an indigenous culture, I felt the backgrounds of some of the other characters were a bit more sketched than laid out. More time in the world might help and I hope we get to see more in this setting.

If you’d like to pick the book up, follow this link and NJB will receive a small amount from the purchase! Thank you so much for your help in keeping the site up and running.

https://books2read.com/u/bzopaz

Until next time,

NJB

 

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and it was so utterly magical. Books are amazing y’all.

 

 

 

 

Review: Adrift (Spoilers!)

A lone humanoid stands on an alien world, with a large wreckage of a space ship off the distance. A red space object glows in the distance.

So its time for a change of pace here at NJB. We’re reviewing a lovely piece of science fiction today! Its still got a romance arc, so have no fear, but its been a lovely change of pace for us and I think you’ll like it. Its so unusual and awesome to see queer folks in sci fi that isn’t tokenizing or bad and Adrift by Isabelle Adler is a great example of it.

First, trigger and content warnings: Death, loss of parents, torture, mentioned rape but no description, boundary pushing that is resolved, near death experience, graphic physical assault resulting in wounds. 

We’ve got Matt, Tony and Val as our intrepid crew of amusing, mildly shady individuals with chips on their shoulder. A bit strapped for cash, they decide to take a job offered by the mysterious Mr. Ari that comes with their very own mystery pilot, Ryce Faine. Matt is pretty instantly intrigued by the lovely Mr. Faine and the book is off from there.

For those of you who liked Firefly, the feel of the space smugglers on the edge of things and taking slightly shady jobs will make you feel right at home. However, along with our intrepid band of misfits, we’ve got aliens, family politics, mysterious ancient civilizations and moral decisions! Its got everything you’re looking for, but its still fun and character based. I enjoyed the mysteries that cropped up in the book and found myself staying up reading it, because it was just so delightful and fun.

I loved the point of view of the books, since Matt is a snarky, vaguely self aware disaster. He’s always trying to do the right thing, even if he’s awful at self preservation. Like, seriously awful at it. Poor baby needs a bubble suit or something.

Ryce is interesting, mostly because he remains a mystery to Matt for much of the book and therefore to us. But he has a sweetness and an idealism that matches well with Matt and their bumbling courtship is hilarious to watch. I’m hopeful we’ll get to see more of them in future books, because I really want to know more about Ryce and his background. Also, I just want more information about the setting. Really just more. *makes grabby hands*

It is darker than most of the books I usually read, with a lot of violence. I will put that out as a caution. Matt is also pushy in the beginning and has to get put in his place about it by Ryce and others. He takes it well though and realizes what he’s doing. Ryce is more than a match for him and their back and forth is darling and realistic.

All in all, its a lovely sci fi romp, with mystery, odd gadgets, twists and turns and some very Indiana Jones delving into ancient ruins. Isabelle has a sequel out now, so I’m going to be digging around for it, because I love the characters, but I give this a very firm 5 stars. If you need a change of pace like me and don’t mind a bit of violence and mystery, I would definitely recommend picking it up.

If you do decide to pick it up, follow the link below and NJB will receive a small percentage of the cost. Thank you for helping keep the site running!

https://books2read.com/u/3JDK8A

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

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.

https://books2read.com/u/mVw7NJ

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.