Historical

#RomBkLove 2021 Day 1: Survival

#rombklove 2021 DAY 1 SURVIVAL
As we begin this 2nd Pandemic #RomBkLove, we've all had to grapple how life-changing this experience have been. Some have left jobs, relationships, communities in order to do what they need to survive.  Even from positions of comfort and privilege (able to work remotely, access to vaccines, etc.)  I have witnessed the gaps communal safety net, how social isolation can leave people unprotected and how so many live on a razor's edge.  In times like these romances that grapple these issues, which stark stakes, remind me of our human resilience and the power we have to help those arounds us, strangers or friends when they are in need.  I find comfort in these exercises of hope that are happily ever afters even after trauma and disaster.

WILD-RAIN-final-252x400Beverly Jenkins writes survivors.  So many of her MCs have survived traumatic pasts, including enslavement, abandonment & abuse, defiantly flourishing despite the many obstacles racism and bigotry place in their ways.  Be it Hester & Galen in Indigo, Maggie & Preacher in Night Hawk, Rhine & Eddy in Forbidden or Spring & Garrett in Wild Rain  her MCs, stand their ground, face down bullies and oppressors and do more than simply survive, they thrive, building families and communities.  US Based Historical Romance, (CW: Racism, abductions, guns, violence, threats of bodily harm, grief, Past trauma: Enslavement, sexual assault, emotional & physical abuse) (Rep:  cis BM/BW, Black author) 

Rebekah Weatherspoon is another author I turn to when I want to read survivors in a contemporary setting. Her MCs face everything from financial insecurity (Sugar Baby Series), family rejection (Xeni's Angus) to attempted murder (Beards and Bondage series)!   Her MC's creative solutions, devotion to found family and persistence in the midst of traumatic events are inspiring and comforting to me as a reader.  I love how the rejected and abandoned find home in others, how trauma is overcome and fails to define them. IR Contemporary romances  (CWs: attempted murder, betrayal, familial abandonment, secrets, kink, grief past trauma: biphobia.)( Rep: cis BW/WM, Queer Black author)

I started out 2020 by reading Anna Zabo's Reverb, little knowing how much it themes of authenticity and survival would come to mean to me. In Reverb, a when Mish, a certifiable Rock Goddess is being stalked and despite her desires to ignore it, she finds her life, band, and voice threatened,  she must come to trust David not just with her safety but with her heart and David must figure out how protect and love Mish.

David and Mish are both survivors. Both have made many sacrifices and endured much to live authentically and are able to navigate power imbalances, career demands to find love in each other.  Contemporary romance with RS tinge, bodyguard / rock queen, (CWs: stalking, grief, loss) (Rep: trans WM /WW bi, White Trans author)

In Olivia Waite's The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics,  Lucy and Catherine have survived different kinds of intellectual stifling due to sexism and abuse at the hand of the men in their lives.  In each other they find enthusiastic support, and unexpected attraction.  They are able to reclaim their intellectual and social agency, and strike blows against sexism in science, reclaiming their confidence, art and work.  Sexy and full of longing and pining.  They are stronger for what they have endured and will strive to make room for others. UK-Based Queer Historical (CWs: betrayal, intellectual theft Past trauma: domestic abuse) (Rep: bi WW/WW, Queer White Author).

 

What kinds of survival stories draw you?  What do you find compelling? Do these high stakes stories comfort you?

Archive: Day 1's Tweets

For a full list of prompts visit: https://www.anacoqui.com/2021/04/rombklove-2021.html

 


#Rombklove 2020: Day 1: Comfort Reads / Lecturas reconfortantes

Day1_Comfort Reads

RomBkLove  2020 Day 1: Comfort Reads / Lecturas reconfortantes is hosted by Heather Lire

#Rombklove 2020 Day 1: Comfort Reads. What books do you turn to when everything else is hard? Angsty? Light? What comforts you? @heatherlire shares her list of comfort reads


#Rombklove 2020, día 1: ¿Qué libros son tu refugio cuando todo lo demás falla? ¿Prefieres lecturas profundas o ligeras? ¿Qué te levanta el ánimo? @heatherlire comparte su lista de lecturas reconfortantes.

 

By day Heather is a hard-working high school Spanish teacher. By night she's a contemporary romance author, and book reviewer. Heather writes under the names Heather Lire and Kenzie MacLir & has run the review website The Book Reading Gals since it's inception in 2008.

 

Heather  has made her post available in English and Spanish!

Day 1: Archive

GR BookLists:

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/147733.RomBkLove_2020_Comfort_Reads_1

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/147756.RomBkLove_2020_Comfort_Reads_2

https://www.goodreads.com/list/show/147758.RomBkLove_2020_Comfort_Reads_3

 

How to participate?

Readers: Respond to the prompts! Share your favorite books, characters, scenes, or thoughts on tropes.  Make sure to include the #RomBkLove hashtag with your tweet! If you have read and loved a book by LGBTQIA+, Disabled, and/or  Authors of Color that fits the prompt please, please mention it.  You might think everyone has heard of the book but I can guarantee you there are lots of people who still need to hear about it.  

Authors: You are welcome to participate too, as fellow readers. The tag is not meant for self-promotion. Boost fellow authors, celebrate the community but do so in a way that respect reader spaces. Respect the conversation.   Join in to rec the books you love that fit the theme/trope/prompt. Yes, you can say “I wrote a book with this trope” but please don’t spam the hashtag with generic promo. 

For a list of all of these month's prompts and archives go to: https://www.anacoqui.com/2020/04/rombklove-2020-celebrating-inclusive-romance-during-a-pandemic.html


Review: The Widow of Rose House by Diana Biller

Alva Webster is staking what is left of her fortune and tattered reputation on restoring an abandoned and some think haunted house in Upstate New York. Naturally she thinks Professor Samuel Moore’s enthusiastic approach is yet another improper but too common proposition.  As fascinated as Sam is about the prickly and sharp widow, it is her ghost that most interests Sam, a wildly successful inventor from a renowned family of scientists. When contractors flee her house in terror, she reluctantly agrees to partner with Professor Moore in hopes of debunking the ghosts stories and getting her restoration project back on track, but instead find herself drawn into a complex mystery and sure to be hopeless romance.  I was utterly charmed by this debut, so much so that I ordered a print copy of the book for my keeper after reading a library copy. Biller does a fantastic job creating a sympathetic yet prickly heroine, whose traumatic history rightfully makes her wary of marriage and romance. Biller does a fantastic job of unraveling both Alva and the ghost’s past traumas, and carefully building up the romance and tension between Alva and Sam. I loved the way Biller had Sam confront his enormous privilege without zapping away his hopefulness and enthusiasm. I loved how Biller allowed Alva to regain agency in her life, while at the same time learning to trust and rely on others.  

 

I highly recommend The Widow of Rose House to lovers of mystery with supernatural elements and all those who enjoy seeing an MC break free and find love, family and purpose after a life of trauma. 

 

Content Warnings:Ableism, domestic abuse, mental illness, Murder


Love in Panels Post: Looking Back -- 15 Favorites from 2005 to 2019

I put together this list for Love in Panels:

 

Sometimes the urge to do something is so strong you just have to go with it. I’ve been reading romance for close to a decade and as we close this decade I felt a great necessity to look back at the Romance novels that marked me as a reader. Although I only started reading romance seriously during 2010, I started with what my library collection had, so my first romance novels were really books that had been out for years (Balogh, Kleypas, Quinn, Garwood, Dodd, Krentz and Chase). They were an excellent crash course on romance, if Romance is only for white, cis, straight historical ladies. I don’t regret reading them, I just regret thinking they were the only things out there.

This list is not some prescriptive list of the best books in the last decade but a survey of the books I’ve read over the past decade that I can still look back at fondly and that I think still have something to say to romance readers.

This post contains affiliate links (in the book titles).

twilight2005 -- Twilight by Stephanie Meyer

Much maligned and mocked I still have a special place in my heart for Twilight which I read in that transitional time where I learned that I loved reading about relationships and I wanted happy endings. Full of classic PNR and gothic elements, and found family feels, I can happily admit that Twilight sucked me in and I enjoyed the journey, especially the more bananas it got.

(CW: Violence, murder)

slave-to-sensation2006 -- Slave to Sensation by Nalini Singh (Psy-Changelings #1)

This was one of the first romances I ever read. Singh’s intricate world building appealed to my SF/F reader heart. I still love the core story, that of a MC who thinks they can’t feel or that they are broken beyond helping, finding their power and community. I still love romances where the MC not only find each other but find their people and a new way to live.

(CW: Violence, murder)

the-mane-event2007 -- The Mane Event by Shelly Laurenston ( Pride #1)

I love Laurenston’s madcap adventures and feral heroines. I love her sense of the ridiculous whether she is writing as G.A. Aiken or Shelly Laurenston. Although I discovered this series as the 11th book was coming out, I immediately went back and read the rest. No one piles up more supporting characters, over top aggression and ridiculous fights into her novels than Laurenston and that is 100% an endorsement. (CW: Violence)

cry-wolf2008 -- Cry Wolf by Patricia Briggs (Alpha and Omega #1)

I still remember what I was doing when I listened to Anna and Charles’s first encounter. They are still one of my favorite romantic pairings, as they are so very different but they bring out the best in each other. Romances frequently put MCs through the wringer, but I love that Briggs has built Anna back up slowly and carefully, honoring the work that trauma survivors have to put in to heal while always being true to the hopefulness of their love together.

(CW: Abuse, violence, murder, Past trauma: Sexual assault, abduction, forced turning)

not-quite-a-husband2009 -- Not Quite a Husband by Sherry Thomas

This polarizing second chance romance blew my mind with its conflict and angst when I first read it and I still think about it. Thomas always challenges me with her romances, with the obstacles she places between her MCs and with the pain she deals them.

(CW: non-consensual sex)

the-forbidden-rose2010 -- The Forbidden Rose by Joanna Bourne

Marguerite, wily, flinty and fierce is one of my favorite heroines. Doyle’s respect and devotion are swoon worthy and Hawker’s acidic commentary is the best. I think of these novels as Historical Romantic Suspense, they raised my expectations of all Historical romance through their fabulous plotting, sublime characterizations and settings.

(CW: torture, incarceration, murder attempts, political oppression)

dragon-bound2011 -- Dragon Bound by Thea Harrison

The most unequal of power dynamics, the alpha-iest alpha to ever alpha and a little thief who outsmarts him, when she should be the one outmatched. Harrison’s Dragos is deliciously overbearing, a dragon who only looks like a man and Pia a delight, as she waltzes into his life and truly overturns it. I loved the world, and all the different supporting characters.

(CW: dubious consent, violence).

beyond-shame2012 -- Beyond Shame by Kit Rocha

I picked up this novel expecting darkly erotic biker club energy and instead I found a series that had darkness and eroticism but so much more. The O’Kanes grow from a scrappy band of bootleggers into world-changing revolutionaries working to make the world safer for love and family. The books are supremely queer and kinky, full of loving constructive community and belonging. They hold up to multiple re-readings, as I find deeper connections each time I do a re-read.

(CW: guns, violence, attempted sexual assault, BDSM, Past trauma: repression, banishment)

[Editor's Note - Remember that Ana has a podcast dedicated to this series!]

the-lotus-palace2013 -- The Lotus Palace by Jeannie Lin

By 2013 I was burning out on Historical Romance. I had read pretty much all I could bear about overheated ballrooms, weak ratafia and reformed rakes. I thought I was done with Historical Romance. But when I picked up The Lotus Palace, I realized there were a whole lot of historical romances to discover. My World History loving heart loved immersing itself in a new environment, with different strictures and conventions and MCs who don’t give up when things seem hopeless.

(CW: murder)

sweet-disorder2014 -- Sweet Disorder by Rose Lerner

If The Lotus Palace showed me how rich historical romance could be when it stopped centering White Brits, Lerner’s Sweet Disorder showed me that I could love UK historicals again, if I looked for books where the rich and perfect are not in the center. Lerner’s flawed, grumpy, fat heroine, and war-ravaged disabled hero find love and the wrong time and in the wrong person, and their love is irresistible.

(CW: Grief, Poverty, Past Trauma: War)

seditious2015 -- A Seditious Affair by KJ Charles

KJ Charles is one of my favorite writers and A Seditious Affair is one of her best. This enemies to lovers story is full of layers of complication, as class, politics, loyalty, and kink mix into an explosive brew. The resolution is a jaw dropping, roller coaster and it made me so happy to read.

forbidden2016 -- Forbidden by Beverly Jenkins

Forbidden was the first Jenkins novel I read and it is still one of my favorites with its indomitable heroine (she is determined to carry that cookstove with her through the desert), conflicted hero (who has a huge choice to make) and its deeply researched history. I loved the tension between Rhine and Eddy and how Jenkins captures the rich and complicated stew of relationships people of color, Latino, Asian and Native American had in the West, reclaiming book by book that history from all that want to whitewash it.

wrongtoneedyou2017 -- Wrong to Need You by Alisha Rai

Everything about Wrong to Need You worked for me. I loved Sadia, her love for her sisters, her feelings about her family expectations for her, her regrets about Paul, her love for her son and both her anger and her love for Jackson. I loved how Jackson and Sadia work out those feelings and face up to the pain of disappointing family and the power of standing with the people you love.

thirsty2018 -- Thirsty by Mia Hopkins

Starkly realistic, Hero only-POV, and super steamy, Thirsty is a lot of things I don’t usually read anymore, but Sal’s story of building a life, when everything seems orchestrated to drive him to despair and not only finding an unexpected passion and someone who convinces him that he is worthy of love was frankly astounding. Sal journey is one that inspires empathy and gives hope while not ignoring stark realities, and that is something romance does when it is at its best.

get-a-life-chloe-brown2019 -- Get a Life, Chloe Brown by Talia Hibbert

I was so surprised by this book. It did everything I wanted a book to do this year. It was hopeful, true and is showcased a world full of intersecting identities. It is wit and fantasy just added to the trueness of core story. Of people screwing up royally while learning to reach for love and letting others truly know them and love them back.

Ten years of Romance reading and fifteen years of books that have helped me through many hard days, weeks and years. Books that celebrate love in all its many incarnations, books that let me see in to more intimate moments of other people’s lives and help me process my own. These books are worth celebrating, reading and loving. I hope you love them as much as I do.

Topics: list


Love in Panels: Ana's Best of 2019 List

I put together this list of my favorite reads of 2019 for Love in Panels.

 

 

I’ve read so many wonderful books this year it actually hurts to pare down the list to a Top 5, so I had to cheat a little bit and create sub-genre specific Top 5 (and occasionally Top 10) lists to figure out what should be in my Top 5 list of the year so I am going to sneak in mentions of all the others books I loved in here too.

  1. The Bride Testby Helen Hoang (Favorite Contemporary Romance of 2019).
  2. Hither, Page, by Cat Sebastian (Favorite Historical Romance of 2019).
  3. Aurora Blazing, by Jessie Mihalik. (Favorite SF/F romance and UF of 2019).
  4. Sapphire Flames, by Ilona Andrews (Favorite PNR romance of 2019)
  5. Once Ghosted, Twice Shy, by Alyssa Cole (Favorite novella of 2019)

the-bride-testSo many people fell in love with Hoang’s The Kiss Quotient last year, but it is The Bride Test that won me over and has me adding Hoang to my auto-buy list. In The Bride Test Hoang centers a young Vietnamese single mother, Esme, who agrees to pretend to be the fiancée of Vietnamese-American at the behest of his match-making mother in order to be able to come to the United States. Khai, who is Autistic doesn’t want a bride, let alone a stranger in his house but agrees in order to keep peace with his mother. Their fake engagement/forced proximity romance doesn’t go as Khai’s mother planned but they are able to bridge cultural and emotional misunderstandings to learn and appreciate each other’s needs and wants and craft a beautiful HEA that is uniquely theirs. (Own voices Autistic Vietnamese American rep, CW: ableism, depression)

american-fairytaleI could have put together a list of my Top 10 contemporary romances of the year and still had to leave fantastic books off the list because I also adored Lucy Parker’s The Austen Playbook with its Hufflepuff/Slytherin romance, all three of Adriana Herrera’s American Dreamer series but especially American Fairy Tale, Melissa Blue’s Grumpy Jake for breaking me out of slump with its fantastic banter, Olivia Dade’s Teach Me, blessing us all with the best of teacher rep, Alisha Rai’s The Right Swipe for tackling CTE and MeToo with such finesse, Rebekah Weatherspoon’s Xeni for its blend of grief and joy so beautiful and the softness of Scottish bagpipe-playing hero, and finally Talia Hibbert’s Get a Life Chloe Brown, with its fantastic blend of humor and realism.

It was truly a fantastic year of contemporary romance.

hither-pageHither, Page is an engrossing and compelling historical romantic mystery full of queer found family and meddling elderly lesbians set in a quiet post-WWII English village where nothing is at it appears. The leads, James Sommers, a doctor and Leo Page a secret agent, are trying to reintegrate into civilian life despite the ways the war has changed them and the world when their paths unexpectedly cross. I wish I had a dozen Page and Sommers mystery novels to read--cozy, funny and warm. (CW: Murder, PTSD, past trauma: abuse, abandonment).

the-ladys-guide-to-celestial-mechanicsThere could not have been no better year for my oldest to ask me for angsty romances with queer ladies. I loaded their reading app with fabulous books by KJ Charles, Cat Sebastian, Olivia Waite and Courtney Milan: Proper EnglishGilded CageA Little Light MischiefA Duke in DisguiseThe Lady’s Guide to Celestial Mechanics and Mrs. Martin’s Incomparable Adventure.

It has been a joy to get their texted updates whenever they encounter a particularly awesome line or swoon at a HEA.

aurora-blazingI didn’t know I needed romances with dangerous space princesses running away across the galaxy till I read Jessie Mihalik’s first two books in The Consortium Rebellion series. While I really enjoyed Polaris Rising, Bianca in Aurora Blazing won my heart. She is fierce, protective and so determined despite the way her abusive late husband’s modifications pain her. I love how she and Ian find creative solutions to the obstacles facing them and the way the siblings are 100% for each other despite their father’s machinations. If you are looking for big ships, big explosions and super sexual tension you need to read this series. (CW: domestic abuse, torture, war, guns, past trauma: non consensual medical procedures)

archangels-warI caught up on a lot of great UF series via audiobook this year. I listened to all of Nalini Singh’s Guild Hunters series just in time to catch up and read Archangel’s War, which was both a conclusion to a long running storyline and a fantastic teaser for more.

I caught up on Rebecca Roanhorse’ fabulous UF series, The Sixth World, set in a post-apocalyptic New Mexico, where the magic of Navajo gods has risen once again. Storm of Locusts moved forward a complicated romance while expanding the world in super intriguing ways.

I also immersed myself in Rachel Aaron’s DFZ’s series, on my sister’s urging. A stand-alone-ish spin-off from Aaron’s Heartstriker series, Minimum Wage Magic, and the most recent Part-Time Gods, are surprising, fascinating and super fun. I loved seeing Opal facing off against her father, discovering her magic and negotiating how to survive in the hyper-capitalistic Detroit Free Zone, while keeping her principles and sense of right and wrong. I am also loving the romantic elements and can’t wait to see where Opal and Nick end up.

cover of paranormal romance Sapphire FlamesThe first three Hidden Legacy novels are one my favorite comfort listens. Whenever I am not ready to start a new series or feel a little burnt out, I just start listening to Burn for Me (Hidden Legacy #1) once again, so to say I was highly anticipating Sapphire Flames is putting it mildly. Thankfully I loved it. I loved how the Andrews have shifted focus and given us a new perspective on the Baylor clan by centering Catalina and Alessandro for this trilogy--a new sibling and romantic relationship dynamic to explore while building on the established history of the series. I love the push-pull tension between Alessandro and Catalina, and the promise of all the secrets they have yet to discover in each other. I can’t wait till next year’s book! (CW: Suicide Attempt, Murder, Violence, guns)

in-a-badger-wayMy heart belongs to PNR, so this was one of the toughest categories to sort through, since there were both fantastic continuations to some of my favorite long-running PNR series by favorite PNR authors, such as Nalini Singh’s suspenseful Wolf Rain (Psy-Changelings Trinity #3) and Shelly Laurenston raucous In a Badger Way (Honey Badger Chronicles #2), along with new favorite, Charlie Adhara’s tense Thrown to the Wolves (Big Bad Wolf #3) along with an enchanting and promising debut in as Allie Therin’s Spellbound (Magic in Manhattan #1).

once-ghosted-twice-shyI started 2019 by reading Alyssa Cole’s Once Ghosted, Twice Shy (Reluctant Royals series) and at the end of the year it still stands as my favorite novella of 2019. I loved how Cole unraveled Fab and Likotsi's story through alternating flashback chapters. I usually struggle with this narrative device because too often authors use it to develop tension and angst between lovers, while I thought Cole used it effectively to clarify and give context to their complications to their relationship and show why they would be open to each other after how things ended. (CW: incarceration)

carolinesheartI read a lot of great novellas this year, but most of them were backlist books, such as Austin Chant’s wonderfully complex and emotional, Caroline’s Heart and EE Ottoman’s swoony enemies to lovers romance, A Matter of Disagreement. I also read through all of Kit Rocha’s Patreon perk shorts and vignettes but High Priestess, stands out as my favorite. In a short little story, Rocha peels back the layers on Del, a fascinating and powerful secondary character in the Gideon’s Riders series while giving closure to a long-running storyline in the Beyond World.

I also loved and previously mentioned A Little Light Mischief by Cat Sebastian, a playful cross-class f/f romance the delivers the sexiest of revenge plots.

For me 2019 has been a fantastic year for reading and I have so many other sure to be amazing books still on my TBR to try to finish. I can only hope your year in reading was fun and remarkable as mine.

Happy New Year and Happy Reading! May 2020 bless you with many new-to-you authors to discover and the comfort of new books by old favorites.

 


Love in Panels Review of Gilded Cage by KJ Charles

I reviewed Gilded Cage by KJ Charles over at Love in Panels:

Susan Lazarus trusts very few people, and that has served her well in life as first an abandoned street rat, then as a con artist and now as a private enquiry agent. Templeton was once in her trusted inner circle, her teenage misfit confidant and then first love, but when it mattered most he seemingly failed her. Susan rebuilt her defenses, found love again and when they finally crossed paths all she wanted was to thwart his criminal ways. But when he is framed for murder, she is the only one capable of unraveling the truth and clearing his name.

Charles crafts an intriguing mystery and an even more fascinating relationship dynamic between former best friends and lovers, whose reunion is under the greatest of pressure. Betrayals true and imagined, miscommunications, disinformation and misunderstanding all must be untangled before Sukie and James can contemplate starting again. Charles is artful in the ways they rediscover parts of themselves they had forgotten about and uncover the ways they have been changed by life and loss. The tension of missing, regretting and reexamining are perfectly balanced by the sharp mutual recognition, pining, and playful attraction Lazarus and Templeton share. Their shared thrill in outsmarting and out-conning adversaries and their piercing observational skills and insight make them a formidable team, especially as James finally learns to trust and do what Susan needs him to do. I particularly loved the light femdom implied in Susan and James’s sexual encounters, as he thrills in doing just what she asks of him and Susan finds comfort in controlling and demanding him intimately.

This novel has tons of Easter eggs for fans of KJ Charles’s Sins of the City and Society of Gentlemen series, as generations of queer found family have left their loving mark on Susan and James. However whether readers are brand new to Charles’ novels or longtime fans, they will find something to treasure in Gilded Cage.

Content Warnings: Murder, mention of past miscarriage, past trauma: abandonment, kidnapping, emotional and physical abuse

Ana received a digital copy of this book from the author for review.


Spellbound by Allie Therin

B2FAAF35-EFA8-4DF0-BDDC-8E2A0124BE46

Debut Latinx (Cuban-American) author, Allie Therin’s Spellbound is the first in a projected three book series set in Prohibition era NYC, where smuggled magic-infused objects threaten the lives of all magically-gifted paranormals and non-magical alike. Therin draws on the era’s post- war clandestine counter-culture scene and anti-immigrant to develop a cohesively tense backdrop for her action-adventure, where her wildly diverse characters can find acceptance a community in a black run speakeasy in Harlem, but also fear exposure and persecution elsewhere.  Therin also explores class and generational tension throughout the novel, as Arthur, the son of a wealthy political family, exploits his privilege to try to protect the younger and poorer Rory.

 

While the world-building was engaging, the secondary characters richly developed and the heist plot intriguing, the romantic beats were somewhat repetitive. I loved how soft and smitten Rory and Arthur become with each other but the dual insecurity about the realness of each other’s interest or the depth of feelings became tiresome. However when the romance was clicking it was delightfully sweet. I loved the little details about younger and smaller Rory tucking himself next to the taller and athletically built Arthur and Arthur who is the bossy caretaker of his friend group, soaking up the open-hearted affection.

 

Tropes:

First Love

Virgin Hero

Opposites Attract

Age Gap

 

Content Warnings: Homophobia, Torture, War, Past Trauma: Child Abuse, religious shaming, 

 

 

 


The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics by Olivia Waite (Feminine Pursuits #1)

 

The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics Cover  two women entiwnedLucy Muchelney worked at her father's side for years doing all the tedious work of astronomy without credit, purely for the opportunity to pursue her passion. After her father's death she feels most alone and vulnerable, her artist brother anxiously eager to see her settled in the same kind of comfortable marriage her long-time lover Priscilla has just abandoned her too, and threatening to sell her telescope, conscious that a lady astronomer would not be soon accepted.

Catherine, Lady Moth, was widowed three years before, yet she is still haunted by her late husband's dismissive and abusive treatment of her and her interests.  Like many of the other women of the Polite Science Society, she has served Science by supporting the scientific pursuits of others, directly and indirectly.  She is incredibly wary of Lucy's bright eyes, desperate ambition and clear genius but welcomes her into her home because she can't bear to turn her out.

Through the course of the novel we see Catherine and Lucy circle around each other, their growing awareness blossoming, along with the realization that they can leave behind the strictures and confining roles their previous lovers had bounded them in, while finding in each other someone who truly sees them and champions them.

One of my favorite elements in the novel is Catherine's growing confidence that her needlework is ART rather than simply a frivolous feminine pursuit.  I loved the moment where she first advocated and negotiated on her own behalf, after a lifetime of doing on behalf of others.  Likewise I loved the moment Lucy is dumbstruck by the fact that she is not alone as scientist, that there have been hundreds of women before her, echoing Catherine belated realization of her own mother's long-time love affair with woman.  Lucy anger at realizing how many women have been erased and sidelined  before her, and the comfort and power she draws from their persistence was incandescent.  It is such a powerful dismantling of the "not-like-other-girls"dynamic that so many women have in STEM develop, having sought approval from the men in their orbit.

As fabulous as the build up was the payoff to both the romantic and career story-lines was simply glorious.  The Lady's Guide to Celestial Mechanics is worth every minute of lost sleep and will leave you breathless in wonder, much like the night sky leaves Lucy and Catherine. 

 

 


Love in Panels Review: Proper English, by KJ Charles

Five years ago, Pat and Fen almost stole the spotlight from Curtis and DaSilva in Charles’s Think of England. Their mismatched charm, and utter competence save the day and left readers begging for their story. Proper English, a delightfully dark house party mystery, is that story, set two years before Think of England. While the focus in Proper English is firmly on the central quartet of Jimmy, Billie, Pat and Fen, Charles continues to excels at creating with fascinating secondary characters who love to steal scenes. From the loyal and serious Victoria Singh, to the tart and savvy Travers, Charles fills this novel with women who are not to be underestimated, not even brittle and bitter Lady Anna.

Pat is relieved to be heading off to a hunting holiday with her brother at his best friend’s house and to leave the family home she has managed since girlhood in the hands of its new mistress, her new sister-in-law Olivia. Pat hopes that the days outdoor will let her sort out her next steps, and work out what to do with her life in the wake of her brother’s marriage. But her hopes of a soothing retreat are dashed when Jimmy announces that his new fiancee has invited herself along and that all his family will be in residence.

“I don’t understand how anyone could not see you,” Pat said again. “I don’t see how they couldn’t look. I don’t see how they could stop.”

KJ Charles, Proper English 

To most Miss Fenella Carruth is a curvy, sparkling and utterly ornamental young heiress, but Pat soon realises her good cheer and charm hide a keen mind and a deep sadness. Fen has twice broken off engagements and seems doomed to do so again, in the face of her fiance’s preoccupied disregard of her. In Pat she finds an unlikely confidant and champion who sees her like no one has seen her before.

At the heart of Pat and Fen’s romance is a keen sense of observation and awareness. Both have camouflage themselves through their lives. Pat blends in with the men in the hunting party, parlying her shooting skills and hardy constitution into cover that allows her to be just one of the guns. Meanwhile Fen, deflects hurtful comments and smooths over conversational breaks, performing often overlooked emotional labor on behalf of all those around her. Both excell at hiding the uncomfortable and painful from casual observers but come to recognize in each other a kinship and discover mutual desire. 

Even as Pat and Fen’s friendship blooms, the fact that Fen is engaged to Pat’s good friend is real obstacle. I loved how Pat works to be good friend to both of them, restraining her own feelings, as she tries to give good advice to Jimmy. Her bluntness and directness serve them both well. Her loyalty to Jimmy, despite her deep disappointment in how he is behaving toward Fen, force Fen to be the active pursuer. She is the first to recognize the spark between them for what it is,and to stoke it. Perpetually overlooked or denigrated for her managing personality, it is lovely to see Fen lavish appreciation and attention on Pat and welcome her eagerly into her life. This makes for a incredibly satisfying romance.

I love a good house party mystery and this one is stellar! With each turn of the page, Charles ratchets up the tension with painfully uncomfortable dinner conversations, half-overheard threats, private trysts interrupted and oppressive weather, long before murder is committed. When Jimmy’s manipulative and sadistic brother-in-law goes missing and later turns up dead, Billie, Pat, and the newly un-engaged Fen & Jimmy work together to try to uncover who in the house is responsible when nearly everyone has a secret and thus a motive for murder. The investigation and its resolution were breathlessly intense and likely to please all house party mystery enthusiasts.

In Proper English, Charles creates a prequel that more than matches the suspense and romance of the first book, while avoiding many of the prior books faults. I was particularly pleased to see that Charles is able to present the reality of racism and insidiousness of prejudice and ignorance without subjecting readers to hateful slurs.

My copy of Proper English is filled with swoony-highlights and I am sure to re-read it again and again to relish its optimistic and sweet ending.

Content Warnings: Bullying, Drug Addiction (secondary character), Fatphobia, Murder

Ana received a copy of this book from the author for review.


Salt Magic, Skin Magic by Lee Welch

Saltmagic

Lord Thornby’s debauched and provocative London life came to an abrupt end when his father seemingly incensed at his latest outrageous stunt drags him back to the family estate. Once there Soren discovers he can’t leave, not because he would be disowned or cut off but because he literally can’t, his father able to mysteriously compel him to stay in the ever-shrinking debt ridden estate.  He is close to despair when his step-mother returns from home with an unexpected and mysterious guest.

John Blake is a materials magician, working magic through inanimate objects, listening to the whispering of the walls and  the chattering of chairs. He feels decidedly out of his element in the rural ramshackle manor, but a good friend has asked him to investigate who is magically harassing, his sister, the new Lady Dalton. At first he is convinced the eccentrically dressed and oddly-behaved Lord Thornby is responsible, until he sees through Soren’s cutting and dismissive words and witnesses his torment.  Together they must uncover what kind of magic is at work, and secrets are key to Lord’s Dalton’s hold over Soren.

I really enjoyed listening to this book. I loved the twisty Gothic/paranormal elements on what at first seems like traditional historical romance premise. Thornby’s shock & horror at realizing he is trapped and his suspicion that he can’t simply free himself by agreeing to marry an heiress like his father demands, unless he can figure out why his father, a previously cruel but non-magical person has managed it. I am also a sucker for bad first impressions and John and Soren start out  as suspicious of each other as they are attracted. The tension over whether they can trust or believe each other is delicious, because they each have very good reasons to distrust each other.

Welch did a fabulous job teasing out the mystery and complicating the picture for everyone involved. She also created some fantastically engaging secondary characters to populate the curse household, including the adventurous and sharp-witted Lady Amelia. I particularly enjoyed seeing Lady Dalton’s opinion about what is happening, and of her husband change throughout the novel. Her desire to retain her dignity and regain some power in their relationship felt very real. Of all the characters in the book, I would l really love to read some more about her as she needs a HEA of her own.

The worldbuilding was fascinating, especially because it incorporated class differences and prejudice into its development. Set in the rapidly industrializing Victorian era, John’s material’s based magic is in its ascendancy, but he is hampered by the disdain of his demon-wielding theogist teachers, whose center of power, Politics and religion are losing ground to Industry but whose wrong-headed opinions still hold sway in academic settings. I loved that Blake comes to realize that his fellow magicians have lost a great deal of knowledge about more rural folk magics that leave him unprepared to deal with what he experiences at the estate.

I listened to ending in one fell swoop because I need to know how the story would be resolved and while I was fully satisfied with John and Soren’s HEA, I wish we could have had some sort of epilogue that gave some sense who everyone else on the estate, responded, recovered and moved on.

I had not previously listened to any books narrated by Joel Leslie but he did a wonderful job differentiating the voices of the characters, capably capturing desperation, desire, urgency, archness and tenderness.

Content Warnings: Homophobia, incarceration, kidnapping/abduction, mention/description of past trauma (physical, emotional and sexual abuse).

I received a review copy of Salt Magic, Skin Magic from the author, Lee Welch.