Review: Two Rogues Make a Right (Spoilers!)

Ok, its been a while due to the upheavals of Romancelandia and many other unfun things we will not address in this blog, cause no one wants that. But we’re back here at NJB and we have an amazing book for you. This ARC came in the other day and it promptly jumped the line and demanded to be read and who am I not to listen?

(A person with bad impulse control at the moment, clearly.)

But my failing is your gain, because you get to hear about this book way before it comes out in June and you can preorder it because oh my god, its like a kitten cuddle in book form and you are going to want this.

But first, content warnings and trigger warnings: Discussion of addiction and recovery, long term parental neglect, trauma, abuse of power against a MC by an authority figure mentioned after the fact, scarring, period typical medical conditions, possibility of death, and sexual abuse committed by a relative of one of the MC’s. 

Though the warnings sound bad, Cat is a master of putting tough things on the page without pulling them straight into your subconscious and messing you up. She’s gentle with it and its more of an explanation of what the characters have been through than gritty, gory details. But your mileage may vary.

Will and Martin are two characters we’ve been circling around for the Sedgewick series, hearing bits and pieces about and meeting in spurts. I’ve been waiting for their book since Cat said she was writing it. If you read ‘A Gentleman Never Keeps Score’, you will have seen a bit of both of them and some of the events referenced in this story. Though it could be a standalone, I definitely recommend reading at least that book as there is a lot of reference back and forth between the two.

(Its also fantastic.)

Martin and Will have been friends for a very long time, through a great deal of struggles. Finally though, they are figuring out through their thickheaded, horribly communicating ways that they really actually love each other as more than just friends.

The problem is, they keep being maudlin, self sacrificing, not communicating and even have one great trope of a badly worded letter to confuse everything before the HEA. Its nearly Austen-ian levels of misunderstandings and I loved every minute of it.

I don’t want to spoil too much, but the pining is distinctly present, as is the lovely trope of the grumpy one loves the sunshine one. I never expected to like Martin much but I really warmed to him in this book. He makes so much sense in the context of Will and you really start to understand his decisions and his manner so much better through this book.

This book also has a particularly delicate and beautiful dedication to discussing the importance of choice, both in bed and out. Will and Martin navigate how to express consent without hitting any of each other’s personal difficulties and its honestly beautiful and feels so natural. If you loved Courtney Milan’s ‘A Governess Affair’, and its dedication to active, informed consent, you will find this to be a new favorite to put alongside that one.

So in conclusion, its adorable, gorgeous, bumbling, slightly frustrating in the best way sort of romance between two people who’ve known each other forever. If you need a small slice of comfort in your life, I intensely recommend this book. I will promptly be rereading it, because frankly, the world is short on comfort right now and I need fluff.

Until next time,

NJB

p.s. If you want to preorder the book, (sadly not out til June), follow the link below and NJB gets a small percentage of the sale. Thank you for your support!

https://books2read.com/u/b550M6

*I received an arc in exchange for an honest review and I don’t think they were prepared for the level of squeeing I planned.

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: The Candle and the Flame (Spoilers!)

A brown skinned woman with long blakc hair stands with blue fire in her hands, wearing a red head chuni (head covering that also wraps around the body). She is staring at the viewer. Her eyes are gold colored.

Its a lovely day on NJB, because I not only get to squee about an amazing diverse book, but its also one that hits me close to home and brings with it something I’ve been looking for since I started reading books as a child.

Not just satisfaction, but also a deep sense of being known, of not being alien to myself and others and thousands of tiny details that make me feel utterly transported and yet comfortable.

I’m talking about ‘The Candle and the Flame’, this incandescent debut book by Nafiza Azad.

I won’t lie, I literally hoarded this book for a rainy day because I could tell it was going to be so good. I savored it and stretched it out and refused to be interrupted while reading it. I want to buy a paperback copy of it just so I can put it in my spice cabinet at home and smell all the things that remind me of home and love and comfort while I read it.

I literally don’t know how to tell you all the ways I felt about this book, but I’m going to try.
First off though, content and trigger warnings. This is a little heavier than some of what I usually review. Its a YA novel, focusing on the city of Noor, which has a fair amount of complex political interactions happening, as well as a history of bloodshed. Controlling abusive relationships, in the past and present, along with child neglect, family estrangment, a massive loss of life prior to the beginning of the book, blood spatter and death. I wouldn’t describe it as gory however, but I could see the family estrangment and abusive relationships being a trigger for some. YMMV.

So this book. This book. This fabulous book. Its a mystery and a romance with some action and it fits so perfectly together. Its a soft, careful romance, fit for 90’s Bollywood with passionate kissing and hugging and not much else on the physicality spectrum. But damn, you don’t feel like you’re missing out. The love between the two main characters is so soft, careful and working on explicit consent. I love it so and I wish I’d had it as a teenager so I could have learned about healthy relationships and what they look like.

The other relationships in this story are also on a range, from healthy to unhealthy and provide a vast variety of looks, power differentials and ways of interacting. There’s a reason I’m going to recommend this to my young cousins. .

But here’s the thing I’m going to gush about until the cows come home. The details…the tiny, culturally specific details that made me feel as though I’d come home and my grandmother was waiting for me with a cup of chai and homemade mutthi. There’s no sense of this being a spectacle for the dominant culture or of requiring explanation.

Everything is presented as what it is and the glossary is in the back if you need it. But for me, it was the first time ever I’d cracked open a work of fiction and felt as though I could  be transported to a place that felt simultaneously new and old. It didn’t hurt that the Maharani in this book has the same name as my mother, an experience I’ve never had until this book. To see names I know and cherish, foods I grew up with, experiences and moments I’d lived that previously had been absent from fiction I read….I don’t know how to describe this to you.

There are no words for the depth of feeling it created in me. Suffice to say, books like this are why I started Not Just a Buzzword. Because I knew that books like this were possible and real. I wanted to know them, love them, find them and experience them. I wanted to feel them in the depths of my soul and in every sense of my body. The Candle and the Flame delivers this, along with a story that twists and turns and keeps the reader engaged.

I slowly devoured this book like the bikaner bhujia that used to come in suitcases from India and was rationed out, knowing there was no way to get more once it was gone. I highlighted words in Hindi and Urdu, just because it made me feel so much to see them in print, not as translations, but just existing. There was no apologizing, no explanation but just words in their context. There was an assumption of being understood and it filled my soul with peace.

I can’t describe this book to you. I can’t recommend it enough. Read it, cherish it. You may not feel how I did when you do, because for me, it was indescribable. But its an incredibly worthy addition to YA fiction and it embodies a richness of setting and a centering of diverse narrative that I want to see in every new work I read.

Nafiza is a true gem, in creating a world that felt like home but also was new and open. Her Djinn are fantastic and complex, with lots of possibility for future books. Her characters have complex relationships, internally and externally and grow and change as the story progresses. One of the secondary characters I liked the least became the one I admired the most and it felt utterly natural. The politics are fascinating and the characterizations are so real.

Giving it 5 stars feels somehow like a pittance, because I can’t even tell you what this book meant to me. So you’ll just have to read it and know that it meant the world to me. Its going on a shelf with G. Willow Wilson’s Ms. Marvel, and I hope to fill that shelf with many more books like it.

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/bP91JA

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I don’t think they were honestly expecting a love letter in return, but hey that’s not my problem.

 

 

 

 

Review: Ashore (Spoilers!)

A presumably alien world stretches out before the viewer with a large circular space craft above it. A lone humanoid stands on the mountains below and sun shines down from above. There are more mountains in the distance.

Welcome back to Not Just a Buzzword! Today, we’ve got an unusual review for you, in that its the 2nd book in a series. If you loved our review of Adrift by Isabelle Adler, I suspect you’ll love the next book Ashore. I know I did.

First off, content and trigger warnings. On content, there is a large discussion of substance use and abuse, particularly alcohol and stimulants. The characters deal with it well but it could be difficult for some readers. There’s also some medical procedures that occur within the book, but occur largely off page. 

For trigger warnings, its a bit of a longer list. Discussion of past rape, night terrors, memories of torture, bigotry, mutilation and discussion of death and rape of off screen characters we have not met. None of the discussion is intensely detailed, which was useful for me but it was still more than what I usually read. If you would like further details, feel free to DM me on Twitter @ShivaniSWriting.

Whew, ok, now that we’re past the important stuff, let’s get on to the reading. So I loved the first book and Isabelle was kind enough to send me an ARC for the second when she saw me squeeing on social media about it. I stayed up late that night reading it, as I have a soft spot for Matt and his horrible decision making skills and overgrown sense of responsibility for other’s well being.

This book picked up from where Adrift left out, with our intrepid space cowpokes wandering the galaxy, trying not to get murdered and living something like the dream. But Matt’s ability to attract trouble hasn’t died down and even his budding relationship with Ryce can’t seem to help that.

One of the interesting things in this book is we seem to get some confirmation that Ryce is demisexual or somewhere on that spectrum. The word isn’t explicitly said, but he does mention that he needs more time to know someone before being physical and Matt accepts this. There’s some definite misunderstandings around the whole thing, but its nice to see some realistic representation there.

Oddly, the plot of this book reminded me slightly of the whole podracing bit in The Phantom Menace, what with trying to raise money, illegal racing and people trying to murder you while you race. But it was fun and entertaining, though possibly a bit long.

Ryce and the crew get stuck trying to make this work to make some money while also dodging some less than friendly characters. They’re also trying to save the life/rescue one of their crew mates. There’s quite a lot of threads going here, but they do all eventually get tied up. We get to know more of the crew, their back story and we get a front row seat to Matt’s insecurities and Ryce’s misunderstandings. Its cute, its intense and its also quite thrilling. Matt and Ryce also deal with some of their unhealthy coping mechanisms and talk frankly about them, which I definitely enjoyed.

I won’t spoil the book for you, but suffice to say, if you like your queer silly babies who can’t quite figure out how to talk about their feelings with a healthy dose of action, mystery and space opera level drama, you’ll enjoy this book.

I give it a 4.5 out of 5, cause the racing got a bit long for me but I loved so much of this book. Can’t wait for the next one.

If you want to pick this book up, follow this link and NJB will receive a small percentage of the cost. Thanks for helping support this site!

https://books2read.com/u/mZKwPp

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

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

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: ‘Hither Page’ (Spoilers!)

A row of small drawn houses in black stand against a snowy landscape. One of them has two lit windows with a small figure standing beside them.

Trigger warning/Content Warning: death of secondary characters, secret identities, mention of suicide, thoughts of suicide, depression and hate speech

You all know this blog has a special place in its heart for Cat Sebastian. And Hither Page continues that beautiful tradition. But why does it merit special mention?

In my opinion, its the disability representation. I mean, yes, its a M/M romance mystery and queer love of all kinds is still marginalized in so many places. But for me, what gets me is the compassionate and loving discussion of PTSD (known in the time as shell shock or combat fatigue) and how the characters cope with it.

There’s discussion of how PTSD affects everyone involved in war, not just combatants. There’s understanding and compassion for each other, that blooms into self compassion eventually. It makes my former therapist’s heart beat a little faster to see healthy relationships developing like this.

James Sommers is the adorable cinnamon roll of a country doctor who came back from the war looking for peace and quiet in the little country town he left. He doesn’t quite feel he has a right to be as shaken by the war as he was and he tries to keep his life as simple as possible so that he doesn’t spiral downward.

Enter Leo Page, who is ostensibly here to look at church tracings, but even I didn’t believe him in the first few paragraphs. Like, wow, that’s an impressively dull subject. Good job spy guy. He’s really here to figure out what the heck is going on in this tiny town for murders to be happening and investigate around. But as he does, he starts wanting and needing a bit of the peace, quiet and caring that Wychcombe St. Mary has to offer. Along with its murders, secrets, hermits and late night graveyard drinkers. (It will make more sense in context, promise)

Leooo…my soft little spy baby. I just wanted to wrap him in a blanket and say he could take a nap. God, Cat always gets me with these characters. I have no resistance to them. Keep your cinnamon rolls, I want my tired little soldiers who need to be told its ok to rest and care about people again.

(Ok, I also love cinnamon rolls but that is beside the point!)

Anyhow, the mystery progresses alongside the romance with tons of hidden trails and red herrings and all sorts of glorious things. There’s adorable old ladies in cottages trying to domesticate Leo, teenagers engaging in some creative rebellion, knitted scarves full of meaning and highly convenient emergencies that require Leo to stay overnight at James’s conveniently open guest room. (Sorry, there’s more than one bed. But its still good.)

I’m sort of a sucker for predicting endings but this one I didn’t manage. So good on you Cat, cause that’s usually easy for me. The amount of lovely minor characters is also kudos to her, cause I managed to care about more than James and Leo and everyone felt real. I would have to say my 2nd favorite character is a minor one, which is impressive. Leo takes the lead, sorry James. You’re adorable though.

I loved this book so much. Its a Cat Sebastian, so how could I not? But I found myself wanting more time for romance. Maybe this is just because I’ve been reading way too much slow burn fanfiction this week (cough, I partially blame Cat for this as well for introducing me to Stucky). It felt as though there wasn’t enough room for both the mystery and the romance at the end. There were a lot of loose ends to be tied up.

I also still have questions, such as why Wendy was left that money in the first place. Was it just so Mildred could be a troll? Did she care for her? I’m just not sure and that poked at me. It may have been addressed and I totally missed it in my voracious reading. That’s happened.

I also just wanted acres of more cozy fireside cuddles and smooches and little passionate love things. It felt a little fast for me at the end for a resolution on the romance end. But knowing its a series helps.

For that reason, it gets a very solid 4.25 out of 5, with a desperate need for the next book to be out so soon because I have needs for this level of squish and redemption.

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

https://books2read.com/u/4DyAOP

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I will love it, and pet it and call it George.