Fantasy

Review: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter by Alexis Hall

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Title: The Affair of the Mysterious Letter
Author: Alexis Hall
Genre/Themes: Queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes
Release Date: 18 June 2019

Author links: Website / Facebook / Twitter / Goodreads

My Rating: 5 Stars


Blurb 

In this charming, witty, and weird fantasy novel, Alexis Hall pays homage to Sherlock Holmes with a new twist on those renowned characters. 

Upon returning to the city of Khelathra-Ven after five years fighting a war in another universe, Captain John Wyndham finds himself looking for somewhere to live, and expediency forces him to take lodgings at 221b Martyrs Walk. His new housemate is Ms. Shaharazad Haas, a consulting sorceress of mercurial temperament and dark reputation.

When Ms. Haas is enlisted to solve a case of blackmail against one of her former lovers, Miss Eirene Viola, Captain Wyndham finds himself drawn into a mystery that leads him from the salons of the literary set to the drowned back-alleys of Ven and even to a prison cell in lost Carcosa. Along the way he is beset by criminals, menaced by pirates, molested by vampires, almost devoured by mad gods, and called upon to punch a shark. 

But the further the companions go in pursuit of the elusive blackmailer, the more impossible the case appears. Then again, in Khelathra-Ven reality is flexible, and the impossible is Ms. Haas' stock-in-trade.

Review 

I have read by Alexis Hall before which is nearly everything he has published. I was really excited for his latest release even though it's not romance. I rarely step out of my comfort genre but I'm always ready to do it with my faviourite authors. 

This queer SFF take on Sherlock Holmes was just brilliant. It was such a glorious adventure story with some dark elements, wildly imaginative and the beautiful, moving writing I have come to expect from the author.

I won’t go into details of the plot, suffice it to say it’s a Sherlock Holmes type of investigation led by the sorceress Shaharazad Hass and her reluctant assistant John Wyndham. They go on solving the mystery in an exquisitely built fantasy world.

It’s a queer story with a pansexual heroine and a gay trans hero featuring a side f/f romance. There is some flirting and romance vibes the focus of the story is the friendship between Shaharazad and John, built of mutual respect and caring for the other. Shaharazad is real and honest, with a bunch of character flaws, unapologetic, confident and self-indulgent. She doesn’t grow or change, she is what she is and is comfortable in her skin, owning her good and bad sides.

We get the story from John’s POV and I loved how consistently puritanical it was, I loved the formality of his POV, his rigidity and strong sense of right and wrong coming through all the text. john and Shaharazad were opposites in almost all aspects and it was pure joy seeing them work together, starting from being reluctant roommates, becoming partners-in-crime and building a tentative friendship that becomes something really important for both of them.

I liked the adventure and fantasy elements a lot – they were engaging and in some ways too real in their reflection of the cruelties of the present days. The chapters in Carcosa were really hard to read for me as they were a poignant presentation of what a totalitarian regime looks like.

Overall, I enjoyed this book a lot. It's a delightful, whimsical SFF multi-layered story. The meta commentary on writing and storytelling brought me pure joy. The book made me think and feel and laugh and cringe in horror and left a lasting impression in my mind. 

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Trashed by Mia Hopkins

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Title: Trashed (Eastside Brewery #2)
Author: Mia Hopkins 
Genre/Themes: Contemporary romance, Gangsters 
Release Date: 16 July 2019

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

My rating: 4 Stars

Blurb


He burns for her. Lucky for him, she likes to play with fire. . .

My name is Eddie Rosas, but everyone calls me Trouble. Since I got out of prison six months ago, I’ve had one goal: find my father, whatever the cost. My older brother says I need to move on. He also wants me to leave our gang, East Side Hollenbeck, and go straight, but I can’t—not until I uncover the truth about our family and its missing piece.


One problem? I’m distracted. My distraction’s name is Carmen Centeno. Smart, passionate, and tough as hell, Carmen is a woman from the neighborhood who’s built her career as one of the city’s top chefs. She’s a master of creating pleasure both in and out of bed. But when our connection deepens, how can I show her I’m not the trash everyone says I am?

The pressure’s rising. Carmen deserves a man she can depend on. And when the ghosts of my past rise up, I’ll have to outsmart them—or lose my shot at a future with the only woman who believes in me.


Review 

I loved the first book in the series, Trashed and made the mistake of reading the first chapter of this one at the end of it and have been waiting for Eddie's story for over a year. I was so excited for it tat I read it as soon as I got the ARC, a couple of months before the actual release which is something I usually avoid doing. 

This story was both everything I was hoping for it to be and also not quite what I expected. It's intense, powerful, very moving with strong emphasis on family besides the romance itself. 

I knew the heroine is a chef and kind of expected she will be a chef throughout the story while he struggled to find his place after prison/gang life. As it happens this was not the central conflict but still liked the way the story progressed. 


What I love the most about this series is the sense of realness they give me. There is no glorification of gang life and the easy money it can bring but there is also of Eddie and his brother for the choices they had to make. We see Eddie trying to leave the gangster life and find a new direction for himeself but no easy solutions for someone with no education and a prison record. There is also the very personal aspect of his family's past and present in all  its complexity - the obligation, the sense of loyalty and guilt, mixed with love and hope. 

Like Thirsty, Trash is told in first person present tense, only from Eddie's POV. It worked well for presenting his inner turmoil which was the focus of the story in my opinion, but I missed seeing Carmen, outside of his version of her. We get bits about her own choices in life, her family situation is was not perfect but we don't see much of how she felt about Eddie and most importantly why she got the love him. 

Eddie is lost and confused and struggling for most of the story but Carmen sees the good in him and appreciate that her support for him never wavers, her belief in him is strong but she also doesn't hesitate to call him out when he acts stupid/overbearing.

I wanted more of their connection, not just the physical stuff, they kind of used the intense chemistry between them as a substitute for talking about their issues.

I liked the epilogue - no magic solution, just gradual progress, hopeful, happy

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#romanceclass

Review: The Queen's Game and Stealing Luna by Carla de Guzman

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Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 1 August 2017

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram / Goodreads

My rating: 4 Stars


Blurb 

There are only two reasons why Nina would come back home to Cincamarre--one, if Auntie Delia promises to stop butting into her business, two, if her father died and she was made to ascend the throne to be queen. 

Unfortunately for her, it was the second thing that brought her home. 

As a princess who's sunk a yacht and been caught kissing popstars, it's easy for her aunt, the regent, to think she's ill prepared for the throne. But Nina doesn't think that having to fake date Felipe, the handsome, squeaky clean Prince of Concordia was the best solution for that. 

Nina's ready to learn the ropes of her new role and make it hers, and reconnecting with Felipe only makes her want to be a better queen. But is the monarchy ready for Queen Nina?

Review 

This is a duology of fictional royal romances but can work as standalones. I loved the first book and had some issues with the second one.

The Queen's Game is just wonderful - a spoiled heiress who has become a world famous celebrity is on her path to take the throne without losing herself. Childhood friends to lovers, great hero - supporting and caring and encouraging, giving the heroine the freedom and the back-up/sense of security she needs. Things start with a fake relationships which quickly becomes real. He is a prince himself but was never intimated by her position, I loved how much he respected her and how proud he was of her achievement. 

The plot involved some court intrigue and backstabbling and was full of details of the everyday life/economy of the imaginary kingdom all of which made the story very relatable and real.

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Title: The Queen's Game
Author: Carla de Guzman
Genre/Themes: Contemporary royal romance
Release Date: 26 April 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Instagram Goodreads

My rating: 3 Stars


Blurb

Cora Justa Dumagat has had enough. 

She is tired of watching the corrupt, fat cats of the council override the monarchy and risk the people’s lives in exchange for a payday. Despite advice from her Queen, Cora has decided to take matters into her own hands and hit the Joaquins where it hurts—to steal their precious Juan Luna painting right from under their noses in Barcelona. 

The job shouldn’t be too difficult. If only Luis Ang, her ex-boyfriend, wasn't hired to be her bodyguard. 

Luis knows that Cora is up to something, and will stop at nothing to make sure she’s safe, even at the cost of Cora’s plans. 

As Luis and Cora become more and more deeply entangled into each other, the more dangerous the situation becomes. Will Cora have her revenge? Or will stealing Luna be the last thing she ever does?

Review 

Stealing Luna is a second chance romance between an art thief the her best friend/crush from college who is hired as her bodyguard. There is a lot I enjoyed in this story - evocative writng, strong sense of place - the imaginably kingdom of Cincamarre and then Barcelona, Spain. The glimpses we get into the whole con of stealing a famous painting (a real one!) and replacing it with the perfect forged one, it was fascinating to see it on the page. There is a lovely secondary f/f romance which I greatly enjoyed. 

I liked how the story progressed, him making amends for rejecting her years ago, her trying to trust him again. The romance was swoon worthy but I had an issue with some of the behaviour of the heroine that I just couldn't accept. I feel she violated his privacy and betrayed his trust and they never properly addressed this. I felt her apology was too weak and she didn't try hard enough to make amends for her behaviour. I don't want to sound as hating on a difficult heroine, I liked a lot about her and could see she acted the way she did (she was prickly and angry but she needed to protect herself and she had her reasons to he guarded). Still, I feel the hero deserved more honesty from her. 

Overall, it's a lovely story and I loved a lot about it and despite my issues with it, I still recommend the whole series as a fun, mostly light-hearted contemporary royal romance. 

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F/F romance

Review: Proper English by KJ Charles

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Title: Proper English
Author: KJ Charles
Genre/Themes: Historical, f/f romance, murder mystery
Release Date: 8 May 2019

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

My rating: 4.5 Stars


Blurb

A shooting party at the Earl of Witton’s remote country house is a high treat for champion shot Patricia Merton—until unexpected guests turn the social atmosphere dangerously sour.

That’s not Pat’s biggest problem. She’s visiting her old friend, the Earl’s heir Jimmy Yoxall—but she wants to spend a lot more time with Jimmy’s fiancĂ©e. The irrepressible Miss Fenella Carruth, with her laughing eyes and lush curves, is the most glorious woman Pat’s ever met, and it quickly becomes impossible to remember why she needs to stay at arm’s length.

But while the women’s attraction grows, the tensions at Rodington Court get worse. Affairs, secrets, betrayals, and blackmail come to light. And when a body is discovered with a knife between the shoulderblades, it’s going to take Pat and Fen’s combined talents to prevent the murderer destroying all their lives.

Review 

This is a f/f country house murder mystery romance which I greatly enjoyed. It's light-hearted and fun, as much as a romance developing at the background of a murder investigation can be. It's an opposites attract kind of romance and it worked brilliantly for me.

This story works as a prequel to Think of England where we see Pat and Fen as an already established couple. I haven't read the other book yet but this didn't affect my enjoyment of Proper English in the slightest.

As usual, I found KJ Charles' writing engaging and I was deeply invested in the plot even more the murder investigation which only happened in the second half of the book. I liked both heroines who were complete opposites in many ways but who also had more things in common than one could imagine. Their romance was tender and sweet, with little angst and lots of care and understanding.
Both are strong, smart heroines and while Pat is very open about who she is, Fen is hiding her true self behind a bubbly, light-headed personality.

I liked seeing the complexity of family and other relationships and in particular appreciate the closeness between Pat and her brother. The support and care for each other without being over affectionate and while also respecting the private space of the other, giving each other room to breathe and be themselves. The pride he took in her shooting accomplishments, her concern about his well-being and her fear of losing him, all of this was deeply moving for me to read.

I notice this as a trait of KJ Charles' books, her villains seem too villainous to be real. My knowledge of history is not that detailed for me to say if people like  really existed but within the story their villainy seemed over-the-top. I had similar feelings about the villains in Any Old Diamonds, so it could be a me thing though, so don't hold it much against the book.

Overall, Proper English is a short, delightful read, marked by great attention to historical detail, interesting plot and a tender f/f romance. I'm looking forward to more stories in this world, for one Think of England is waiting for me on my Kindle and I also very much want to read the story about Pat's brother which I hope we will get at some point.

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Contemporary Romance

Review: Teach Me

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Title: Teach Me 
(There is Something About Marysburg #1)
Author: Olivia Dade
Genre / Themes: Contemporary romance, teachers
Release date: 30 May 2019

Author's links: Website / Twitter / Goodreads
My rating: 5 Stars

Blurb

Their lesson plans didn't include love. But that's about to change...

When Martin Krause arrives at Rose Owens's high school, she's determined to remain chilly with her new colleague. Unfriendly? Maybe. Understandable? Yes, since a loathsome administrator gave Rose's beloved world history classes to Martin, knowing it would hurt her.

But keeping her distance from a man as warm and kind as Martin will prove challenging, even for a stubborn, guarded ice queen. Especially when she begins to see him for what he truly is: a man who's never been taught his own value. Martin could use a good teacher--and luckily, Rose is the best.

Rose has her own lessons--about trust, about vulnerability, about her past--to learn. And over the course of a single school year, the two of them will find out just how hot it can get when an ice queen melts.

Review

This a warm hug of a book and I couldn't be happier I got a chance to read an ARC of it. Such a lovely, heart-warming, life-affirming, joy-bringing book!

I loved both MCs, each not being the typical romance MC - she is fat but there is nothing soft about her, she is confident and fierce, has a killer fashion style and np hang-ups about her body. I adore Rose and want to be her when I grow up.

Martin is softest cinnamon roll hero, unassuming and shy, quiet, carrying a lot of baggage from the past. I loved how caring he was with is daughter, with his students with heroine. Kindness means so much and at the same time is so underrated in real life and in romance.

They are both teachers and liked how much their professional life was part of the story, their dedication to their students was a joy to read. Often the professions of the MCs in romance are barely noticeable but here they had a central place in the story because they had a central place in the character's lives.

I appreciate how their romance progressed, the character development worked perfectly for me, both Rose and Martin are hesitant to start a relationship, they have their scars and we seem them getting closer with time, opening up to each other, putting an effort into being together and making it work. I liked how he stood his ground without being aggressive or pressuring her. Her big gesture was so over-the-top but also the sweetest possible apology and it was so fitting to the story and worked so well and I loved it so much. 

The story also has incidental queer representation which I liked, together with complicated family dynamics (exes, Martin's daughter. Rose's ex-inlaws, they were all very interesting characters and had an important role in the story).

Highly recommended read!

CW for abuse in the family (in the past)

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