Historical Romance

Review: Band Sinister by KJ Charles

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Title: Band Sinister 
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, MM romance
Release Date: 11 Oct 2018

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Facebook Group / Goodreads

My rating: 5 Stars


Blurb

Sir Philip Rookwood is the disgrace of the county. He’s a rake and an atheist, and the rumours about his hellfire club, the Murder, can only be spoken in whispers. (Orgies. It’s orgies.)

Guy Frisby and his sister Amanda live in rural seclusion after a family scandal. But when Amanda breaks her leg in a riding accident, she’s forced to recuperate at Rookwood Hall, where Sir Philip is hosting the Murder. 

Guy rushes to protect her, but the Murder aren’t what he expects. They’re educated, fascinating people, and the notorious Sir Philip turns out to be charming, kind—and dangerously attractive. 

In this private space where anything goes, the longings Guy has stifled all his life are impossible to resist...and so is Philip. But all too soon the rural rumour mill threatens both Guy and Amanda. The innocent country gentleman has lost his heart to the bastard baronet—but does he dare lose his reputation too?

Review 


This story is such a delightful queer historical romp made up of fun and fluff and gorgeous writing. There are none of the murders and gore we have come to expect in KJ Charles' romances, just a nasty broken legs and some alluded beating in the past. What we get is the same wonderfully complex and morally dubious characters . 

It's the story of Guy and his sister Amanda, both discovering the hellfire club Murder and falling in love. I loved the MCs, as well the supporting cast of diverse characters. Amanda was awesome, often eclipsing even Guy and Philip and she is the kind of female representation in m/m romance that I want to see more often, not to say always. 

I won't be going into details of the story because the plot is suspenseful and dramatic and I feel would work better to go into it blind. I found the first part really funny, light-hearted while things a more serious turn in the second half. 

Guy is a virgin hero discovering the possibility for love, affection, friendship, in a way he is having his whole world turned upside down and his journey of self-discovery and world-discovery is a pleasure to follow. He is the embodiment of quiet strength and resilience, appearing meek and bland on the surface but full of fire and life and curiosity. 

Philip is basically noble bastard hero who becomes aware of his own position of privilege and falls for the least likely man. He gets to teach Guy a lot of things, to open his eyes and turn upside down his beliefs and principle but he also learns a lot from Guy. His relationship with Guy makes him re-examine and re-evaluate his own position and principles in life. I'd say they both bring out the best in each other and that is what makes their relationship so special in my eyes. 

I thoroughly enjoyed the secondary plot with Guy’s sister – she did steal the show in the early pages of the book and was a delight to read throughout. She is his opposite – outgoing, adventurous, taking risks, not a virgin! And I loved seeing the beauty in their difference and how being one or the other doesn’t make you less deserving of HEA. 

There are many discussions on social norms and propriety and how false all this can be and how much more satisfying it can be to follow your own counsel and not public opinion. At the same time there is a dose of reality with all the hardships lack of money and the possibility for earning one’s living. It’s a theme common of KJ’s books – a privileged character comes to realise their own privilege and respectively see the marginalised/underprivileged situation of the other MC(s). 

In short, this a very entertaining diverse queer romance with great MCs and fascinating supporting characters. It has a similar feel to The Henchmen of Zenda - fun and light-hearted while still tackling serious social and moral issues under the guise of adventures and humour. 

Highly recommended!

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Carla de Guzman

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #11

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Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh

I love her Psy-Changeling series but her contemporaries have been a hit or miss for me. This one was on the hit side, I'm happy to say. It’s modern arrange marriage romance of sorts set in the Indian community in New Zealand. The story is full of cultural and everyday details about the community and the tension between tradition and modern values/desire for freedom which cause the main conflict in the story. I’d say it’s a kind of an epic love story, one about choice and freedom, loyalty to oneself and one's family. I liked seeing how immersed in the community/their families both MCs are. And I absolutely loved them both. 

Nalini Singh tells a moving story about how one’s dreams can change because one’s circumstances change. It’s about finding a way to make things work, about trust and compromise which are at the centre of any relationship. Breaking free is not a goal in itself, it's a means to achieve happiness and when being with another person is what makes you happy, you two work to give each other that freedom and that connection and support.

It’s a past paced story, rich in details and ultimately one big celebration of love (it features multiple wedding, mostly Indian style ones but also one non-Indian beach wedding). And it has a fabulous ending full of love and quiet happiness. 

Highly recommended read! 5 stars

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How She likes It by Carla de Guzman

This a romanceclass title (a community of Filipino authors who write romance in English, and also the readers of these books) and my first by this author. It was absolutely lovely. I enjoyed everything about it - older successful CEO heroine, younger single dad hero, one night stand and then he ends up working as her assistant. Great fat rep in the heroine, awkward, a bit clumsy giant of a hero. It's practically my catnip and I loved the romance arc, the way they dealt with the power imbalance between them, them being at different stage sin their lives and yet, complimenting each other. Tense, dynamic story, lots of reflections on family/friendship dynamics. 

A bit of the evil ex trope which I didn't particularly like. I could understand his resentment and conflicting emotions re the mother of his child, yet she was continuously presented in negative light and judged for her (non-traditional) choices. Unlike the heroine who made her own non-traditional choices and was applauded, admired by the hero for them. 

Still, this is a very intense, compelling but also down-to-earth contemporary romance. I loved that it allowed for the heroine to be determined, business savvy, in control and professionally successful while the hero was still finding his way professionally, happy and satisfied to be a father, not focused on professional success so much. 4 stars

I already have If the Dress Fits, an earlier romance in the same setting, and I want to read it as soon as possible.

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I just finished Best of Luck by Kate Clayborn and I’m lost for words to express how much I loved it. It’s the perfect ending to a great series of contemporary romance. It releases in November and I will be reviewing it in detail closer to release date. For now, I will only say that Kate broke my heart with these books and put it back together in a most delicious way. I just can't recommend this series enough.

Currently reading: Band Sinister by KJ Charles and it’s such a fun, feel-good historical romance, a romcom, I dare say and I’m having so much fun with it. It releases on Oct 11 and I will review it properly soon.


Historical Romance

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #10

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I finished two historicals by Joanna Shupe in the past few weeks - A Daring Arrangement and an ARC of A Notorious Vow (out on Sept 25) - books 1 and 3 in her new Gilded Age series.

A Notorious Vow
A historical romance with a deaf reclusive hero, and a virgin noble heroine as MCs. I liked the disability rep (I have no experience with deafness myself, so I'm speaking from the position of an outsider), we see the deaf hero in a position of privilege and how the support and the good financial situation helped him and provided him with opportunities to succeed despite being deaf. Still, there was a poignant plot element revealing the vulnerability (in legal and purely personal sense) of deaf people at the time.

I loved the hero but I was not the biggest fan of the heroine. He was interesting, smart, caring, loving and I enjoyed following his character journey. She, on the other had, she was very much the meek, clueless virgin heroine we so often see in historical romance. It took a while for her to stand up for herself and to act with more confidence and determination and by the end of the book I had much more respect for her.

My main complaint was that the villains felt like caricatures of evilness rather than real people. Her her parents, his cousin, they were over the top in their villainy and lacked nuanced and character development. 3.5 stars

CW for scenes of violence and abuse in mental hospital, ableist language (that got challenged on page). 

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A Daring Arrangement
I loved this fun fake engagement romance. And it was all because of the heroine who was, bubbly and energetic, doing everything for love, daring, spontaneous while also having moments of self doubt and insecurity. 

The hero was rather interesting too - successful and smart, bon vivant, not ashamed of how much money he makes and he spends freely and with abandon. He does everything to help the heroine while trying in vain not to fall for her.

Like book 3, I found the villain here to be too villainous though there was more background and motivation to his actions.

The story gives us interesting reflections on the change of morel values, with the heroine coming to realise that there might not be just one and only true love.

There was a lot of action and plot twists towards the end which I quite enjoyed. I loved seeing the excess and glamour of the Gilded Age all through the story.

Overall, this was an interesting and very engaging historical romance with a wonderful heroine and a most caring hero. 4 stars

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I'm finally giving up on Stripped by Zoey Castile. I left it at 60% a couple of weeks ago and I'm not motivated to finish it. I was drawn to the premise of a Latina school teacher and a male stripper getting together but the book didn't deliver. It's told in dual POV first person present tense and it felt juvenile and flat. Both characters were in their late 20s and were going through some sort of of early mid-life crisis. While we got some insight as to why he was starting to feel dissatisfied with his job and his life in general, her total loss of control over life was never properly explained. I needed to see more of their motivation.

I hated the subplot with her school principal, it was silly and didn't add anything important to the story. On the plus side, I liked the hero, his band of stripper brothers and their interactions were quite entertaining, I also found the relationship between the heroine and her best friend interesting but that was not enough to save this for me. 

Currently reading: Rebel Hard by Nalini Singh, contemporary m/f romance with Indian MCs, arranged marriage. I have some minor quibbles but it's mostly good so far, very romantic.


Ada Harper

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #9

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It's been a couple of weeks since I did my last Mini Reviews and Reading Recap post. Life has been busy but I did read some great books and here are my reviews of them.

A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper


What a great sci-fi/dystopian romance! I don't reach much SF but some friends on Twitter were raving about it so I decided to give it a try.

It depicts a futuristic world with genetic engineering and fertility/reproduction issues (CW).

I enjoyed the story a lot, both the twisty thriller/royal coup plot and the romance arc. Both leading characters had powerful presence and together with the supporting cast made their world vibrant, diverse and memorable. This is very heroine-focused story and Olivia was an amazing character and had me rooting for her to succeed from the very start. She is a wonderfully drawn, complex, a prickly assassin who can be deadly for her enemies and loyal to her friends. I loved her growth and opening up to caring about others and allowing herself to ask for help. 

Hero is the most kind and caring partner but also a deadly warrior like her. I loved his devotion to his family (his support for his sister who is the Empress) and his people. His love for Olivia was a thing of beauty. There was so much care and consideration and respect for her boundaries. He was patient and supportive and in total awe of her strength and skills. 

I liked how the author weaved together a story of fated mates, mixed with complex issues of fertility, consent, agency and choice. I absolutely love the idea of the mating bond not necessarily being romantic, it's the strong connection of support and care and understating between any two people (On a side note, I would have loved to see the bond Galen had with his best friend and if/how it was affected after the romantic and sexual bond between him and Olivia happened).

There is great supporting cast, including a gay couple and a transgender boy, whom I really liked and felt fitted well into the story/the world 

A SF romance full of lots of action and plot twists, court intrigue, ancient culture and futuristic technologies co-existing to create and intriguing and unforgettable tale of love and war. 5 Stars

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A Treason of Truths by Ada Harper
This is the second book in the series but works well as standalone too. There is intriguing world-building, lots of description on nanotechnology and bio-engineering. I liked it but felt the focus was more on the action/adventure than the romance. Lyre and Sabine both are interesting characters and there was some angst in their relationship but not enough tension/conflict. 

This story is a curios mix of futuristic world and adherence to all royal/noble traditions. We get a f/f romance set in a world where queer relationships are a part of the world in the same way as heterosexual ones are. The love scenes were tender and low-heat compared to book one.

In short this story gives the readers a fast-paced, cleverly built dystopian world, interesting MCs, some pining, some tender loving and a most glorious declaration of love at the end. 3.5 stars

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Fool Me Forever by Ainslie Paton

This is the second book in her modern day Robin Hood series The Confidence Game. This time we get the shy, bookish hero and the only woman who knows he is a con and doesn't want to have anything to do with him.

There is great chemistry between the MCs but she carries lots of baggage because of her family and his family and what they do/want in life. There is a a strong conflict at the heart of the story which leads to bot MCs reevaluating  their principles and core values. I loved how life is shown to be complex and sometimes you are faced with impossible choices. This story shows how love can make two people happy being together and what they have to sacrifice to make things work between them. 

It's an escapist fun kind of story, yet very real about relationships both love and family ones, and the choices we make that define who we are. 4 stars

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Currently reading: A Notorious Vow by Joanna Shupe, m/f historical set in New York at the Gilded Age, deaf reclusive hero, virgin noble heroine. I'm enjoying it a lot so far. It comes out on Sept 25.


Alyssa Cole

Mini Reviews and Reading Recap #8

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I haven't done much reading while on vacation but I did read some amazing stories. Here are my short reviews on the first two books in Alyssa Cole's Reluctant Royals series. 

A Duke by Default by Alyssa Cole

In three words - I loved it. So fun and so much depth. Entertaining, everything I need in my romances - real, flawed characters, messy emotions, a bit (royal) drama, interesting family and friendship dynamics. There is so much to talk about in this book. Heroine discovers she has ADHD, she is not messy and flighty and unreliable but brilliant and determined. Divorced older hero who doesn't want to fall in love. No cheating evil ex, but rather an amicable divorce where they are still friends. I can't recommend it enough. I loved the female friendship, old and newly emerging ones, his family is pure gold. On top of the fabulous romance this story also presents a topical comment on immigration, gentrification, the aristocracy. I related so much to her way of expressing love  through care.Brilliant, one of my top reads of 2018!
5 stars


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A Princess in Theory by Alyssa Cole

I read this after book 2 but it didn't affect my enjoyment in the least (other than seeing the old Portia in not so flattering light). This is a light, fun, sort of dreamy, sweep-me-off-my-feet royal romance. I loved the STEM heroine, the prince in disguise also worked well. Alyssa Cole tells a modern-day fairy tale which the perfect feel good read. I enjoyed the details of life in New York and then in second half, all the magic and beauty (and court intrigue) of a made up kingdom of Thesolo.
I loved the female friendships in the story, both old and new. I was not happy with he way Thabiso lied to her and misled her initially but I managed to forgive him by the end.
Overall, this is a magical, fun and relaxing read which I enjoyed immensely.
3.5 stars

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*** *** *** 

Currently reading: I started Stripped by Zoey Castile but had to stop at 70% because it was not working for me and I was getting close to hate reading it. I will try to finish it in order to write a proper mini review, hopefully next week. So, now I'm reading A Conspiracy of Whispers by Ada Harper. I'm less than halfway through and I'm riveted, such a brilliant sci-fi, post-apocalyptic m/f romance. I can't wait to finish it and start the next one, A Treason of Truths. It's a f/f romance and I already have an ARC. 


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