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.

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.

https://books2read.com/u/meg0pZ

Until next time,

NJB

 

 

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 Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics

Two women are lying on a bed that is covered in red fabric. One of them is wearing a deep red dress with a great deal of fabric and has blonde hair. The other is wearing brown and has dark brown hair and is touching the other woman's face.

Content warning and trigger warning: Discussion of abuse, sexism, misogyny, verbal abuse, controlling behaviors. Discussion of problematic consent in past experiences, emotional abuse

How do I talk to you about this book? I don’t even know. It feels like it lifts me to the heavens and then brings me down into the fields and back again. I feel like I should write a poem to this book, instead of a review. It seems to demand something special or extraordinary, because it is an extraordinary book.

The details, the relationships, the horrifyingly accurate sexism and how it stings in the readers soul, even as its laced with patronizing misogyny’s words of best interest: I actually probably should write a poem to this book. Plainly, its giving me feelings.

But you don’t come to this site for poetry: you come for reviews. So here it is, unabashed and honest.

I love it. Oh god how I love it. I haven’t loved a book like this in a while. Its so real and honest and pure and yet not afraid to be wicked. The characters are so believable. Even the villains seem like people you would know down the street. It stings and it binds the wounds and it holds you close and says “I know. I know what its like to feel your world made small by someone. I won’t let them make you small”.

As someone who’s been sewing for years and dabbling in art, as well as spending years in biology and chemistry, it feels as though this book were made for me in some parts. The disdainful treatment of arts claimed to be ‘womanly’, feeling the pressure to be an assistant to someone else’s genius rather than your own and the little grit that gets into the pleasure of a day when someone assumes you weren’t the one who made this glory. The times when someone stole your work and said it was theirs and gave you a small smile, as if to say “Well, you know how it is”.

Its all there. And it enhances everything.

And the love between Catherine and Lucy! Its so sweet, so beautiful, so real. Its hard to not want to touch their faces and hold them close and threaten the lives of anyone who hurts them. They are darlings and they are our darlings. The little bumps and realities of their love story, Catherine’s family love story playing out in reminiscence and just so much fantastic art and science. The moments of doubt and indecision and god, the ways they find to be together.

Can you tell I liked it? I literally can’t quite control myself about it.

I’m not going to spoil anything, other than its a love story, which you already know, because its just too good. You need to savor this book like a glorious chocolate you bought yourself because you wanted it or the perfect baked good on a cold, rainy day with a cup of tea. Let it fill you and warm you and hold you close. Press it to your chest and let it seep in to the cracks of your heart.

Keep it for a bad day if you need to or a good day or just a day when nothing feels right.

And then, when its done, heave a sigh and let it breathe. It won’t go anywhere, because its in your heart now. Hearts are handy like that, keeping what we love.

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

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

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

(I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I’m going to make a tiny shrine to it cause that’s how I roll sometimes, ok?)

Review: The Right Swipe (Spoilers!)

A brown skinned woman with dark curly hair and a lighter brown skinned man with dark black close cut hair are both drawn in cartoon form on the cover. They are both holding cellphones and looking at them.

Content Warning/Trigger warning: Mentions of past abusive relationship dynamics, death of secondary characters, medical conditions that result in death, incomplete reading, so cannot vouch for all content being covered

So, its a new experience here at NJB. This is the first time I haven’t been able to finish a book that I actually really love. Its Alisha Rai, which also hurts, because I love her works and her so much.

But for some reason, the past relationship between Peter and Rhiannon kept hitting me in a bad place in my head. Even before he was introduced and we were just hearing bits and pieces, I found myself struggling with it. It took me out of the book and made it hard to keep reading. So, if you have a history or difficulty reading books with controlling or manipulative ex’s, you might want to avoid.

What I am going to talk about are the parts of the book that I loved that kept me trying to finish it. First off, Samson. Adorable, cinnamon roll, caretaker for a beloved family member and advocate for friends. God I just wanted to cuddle him. He’s also so respectful of Rhiannon’s boundaries and listens pretty well, despite being totally gone over her. Utterly adorable and totally part of why I kept going with this book, cause I wanted him to have a happily ever after.

Then there’s Rhiannon. Oh lord. A survivor, strong, fierce, loving, gentle, bold and she has a difficult relationship with a mother she loves? Sign me up for a lifetime subscription. That hard shell with the squishy center? Ugh. Slays me every time. I am all for that wearing a hoodie everywhere life.

Their romance starts from an accidental ghosting, which I never realized was a thing I liked, but totally is. They communicate well, despite all their intense insecurities and worries about each other. They make sense and I might have to look up a synopsis just so I can know how this all ends, cause I’m still invested, despite the DNF.

I can’t give a totally thorough CW/TW as I didn’t finish. But I’m hoping someone out there can for those of you wanting to deep dive into this book. Its so cute and its so lovely. Its just not something I can make it all the way through. I also need to know how Peter gets his comeuppance with all of my soul, cause that’s how I’m built.

With that in mind, I’m giving it a provisional 4 stars. I hope some of you love it to pieces, because its definitely deserving.

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/m2VXvO

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

p.s. I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review.

 

 

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.

Review: ‘That Kind of Guy’ (Spoilers!)

A black woman with long, wavy dark hair stands close to a white man with a close haircut and stubble. Her hand is on his chest and his hand is holding her hand against him. They stand as if they are about to kiss. He is not wearing a shirt and she appears to be wearing a sports bra of some kind.

Usually, I try to do a spoiler free review, but the squee in me will not be contained this time. So be warned, spoilers abound here!

First things first, content and trigger warnings. There is mention  and discussion of chronic illness for multiple individuals, discussion of infidelity, plagarism and unhealthy relationship dynamics. Possibly triggering would be the discussion of sexual encounters where one of the MC’s consented without wanting to, because he wished to make others happy. Some boundaries are pushed during one drunken discussion by two characters, but boundaries are set hard and respected. One of the MC’s mothers is emotionally abusive and says some painful things during the book, which could be triggering for some.

Next, what makes it rate hitting the blog. We have black woman author, white man demisexual, discussions of trauma, chronic illness being discussed openly and the practical needs of it and people with complex family histories getting HEA’s! What’s not to love?

Now on to the squeee!

So I’ve enjoyed Talia Hibbert’s Ravenswood series so much so far, but this is likely going to end up being my favorite book. The characters, Zach and Rae, are part of the same core group of folks we’ve seen in her other books but we haven’t had their stories yet. Zach is Nate’s younger brother (Hannah’s partner in Untouchable) and works as a smith. Rae is Hannah’s best friend, a divorcee who moved to Ravenswood under a cloak of mystery with three cuts on her face.

They have the most adorable set up, where Rae comes by every day walking her dog Duke (who is a tiny bear that I wish to steal) while Zach is totally coincidentally taking his break outside at the smithy. She tells him stories she’s cooking up and he enjoys the heck out of it and occasionally helps pick apart a problem.

This man is straight author candy and I love it.

So Zach and Rae meet every day and hang out, but never really seem to go further. Then, one night, they decide after a few drinks with friends to go wandering to have an adventure.

Note: This is where the boundary pushing occurs. You can probably skip these pages if you’d rather not see it. Its referenced throughout the book and truthfully, you won’t miss much by doing so. Rae learns quickly and realizes how she’s fucked up and owns it. Zach feels good for having his boundaries respected and for laying down the law instead of trying to go along.

So, its awkward, they make up and do some good communicating. Then it comes out that Rae has a convention to attend as a fledging author and needs some help to feel confident and good as her ex-husband will be at the conference. So Zach offers to be her fake boyfriend for the weekend. Trope heaven! Oh and they get to the hotel and there’s only one bed! Even more tropes!

I won’t spoil the convention for you, because there’s lots of fun, twists and turns here. Let’s just say that the fakeness starts to flake off pretty quickly, both start realizing their feelings and pants feelings for each other, misunderstand each other, have hot fun times and then have one critical misunderstanding.

As we return to Ravenswood, we get to witness Rae taking down her emotionally abusive mom on the phone for the first time as she squares herself up to talk to Zach and be honest and open with him. They talk, they kiss, its fucking perfect and cute. I want a Duke plushie to snuggle.

tl;dr BUY THIS BOOK! Its so cute and fluffy and though there are some parts where things could be rough, they are dealt with well and in a gentle way. Both of the characters learn from each other and their own burgeoning self esteem to stand up for themselves and what they want and its just beautiful. Their relationship makes sense on the most fundamental level and if I wrote fanfiction, I would write screeds about their happy life and the new puppy they buy that Duke loves and them moving into Zach’s house and making it less scary to the neighborhood kids.

Also, the dirty talk? Hooooootttttt. *fans self* You won’t regret that.

5 stars out of 5 stars and its going on my comfort reads shelf. Can’t get much better than that!

In case you take my advice and buy the book, this link will help support NJB. So follow it to fun and romance! As always, thank you for supporting the site.

https://books2read.com/u/3G2Mxp

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

*I received an ARC in exchange for an honest review and I will hoard it for fluffy feelings until I am old.

 

Review: ‘A Prince on Paper’

A black woman with long braided hair stands on one leg in a teal, black and purple floral patterned off shoulder dress. Her other leg is held and supported by a light skinned man with auburn hair in a white shirt, pants and a patterned vest. Both of their eyes are closed. Behind them is a city, washed in a teal color.

I swear this isn’t turning into the Alyssa Cole review blog (but damn a being can dream). She’s just been producing so much amazing stuff lately that you are going to be inundated for a bit. Its a great problem to have, trust me.

Content and trigger warnings for the book: Discussion and description of past controlling and abusive behavior by Nya’s father and continued attempts at controlling behavior. Emotionally abusive language. Gaslighting, recovery from said gaslighting. Death of a parental figure and funerals. Lack of consent around usage of pictures of main characters. Discussion of death of a close family member and the resultant grief and guilt. 

First, what makes it hit the blog, besides my intense feelings about Alyssa Cole’s writing. Nya’s someone recovering from trauma, an African woman and learning how to find her own agency. Johan is from a blended family and lost his mother young. He’s learning how to cope with all those feelings.

Can you see why I lost my mind at this?

Ok, so for anyone who had a super soft spot for Nya in ‘A Princess in Theory’ (the woman being held captive of sorts by her father, who was the villain of the piece), this book is for you. It has virtual dating sims, playboy Prince’s with secret hearts of gold (one of my faaave tropes), people coping with complex parents and families, coming out stories, and empowerment. Its a delightful clown car, except there are no clowns (whew) and its much more fun than that.

Whew, ok, I’m getting ahead of myself. So, Nya is heading back to Theosolo for the wedding of our previous pair from ‘A Princess in Theory’ (which if you haven’t read, go get that, for the love all that’s holy, you will want to know the details and its so cute!).

Anyhow, she unexpectedly bumps into Prince Johan, who we’ve seen fabulous glimpses of here and there, especially in ‘A Duke by Default’ (otherwise known as the adventures of Swordbae and Woman of the 21st Century in my head). They have a key misunderstanding, because of course. And then they start realizing how amazingly hot and intriguing they both are.

Its fun, its steamy, there’s twists, turns, the past coming back to haunt and healing from family wounds. There’s fake engagements, real engagements, romantic castles and very public love confessions.

One of my favorite parts of this book is how the characters handle their pasts and each other. They also handle conflict in a beautiful and realistic way. It sets so many good standards for a healthy relationship, even with all the drama.

What more could you want? I’m not gonna spoil it, cause it would be a crime, but go snag it when its out on April 30th! You won’t regret it in the slightest.

If you want to snuggle up with this lovely pair, follow the link below to buy the book and NJB will receive a small portion of the cost. Thank you so much for your support!

https://books2read.com/u/meg0ol

Until next time,

Not Just a Buzzword

 

*I received an Arc for an honest review and you will pry it from my fingers when I am dead and gone.